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For High School Students, the Pen Is Mightier than District Budget Cuts

The Peninsula Young Writers program awarded seven talented high school students for their creative writing work in fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

In light of an overwhelming budget crisis that has caused high schools to cut back on writing programs, one local program is trying to fill in the gaps: Peninsula Young Writers (PYW).

The program recently honored seven students from the Sequoia Union High School District—four of whom were Redwood City students—for their excellent manuscripts in fiction, non-fiction and poetry. The budding young authors received their awards and congratulations from the three judges Monday night at .

“All the young writers were wonderful,” said Beth Harrison, the founder and director of PYW. “I wish we could offer awards to all of them.”

Savanna Won, a freshman at in Redwood City, took home first place in fiction for her piece, “Cracked Armor.”

In the piece, Won experiments with the fantasy genre. “I like dragons,” Won said, and unlike the five-paragraph essays she writes in school, “This is more fun. It’s not on a set topic."

PYW offers programs for youth age 8 through high school. Programs include summer camps, after school writing workshops, PYW Literary Journal and high school expository writing workshops.

Lucie Pereira of Crystal Springs Uplands School in Hillsborough, who received the Grand Prize of first place overall for her short story, “Cereal,” won a free week of tuition at PYW’s Seventh Annual Creative Writing Camp this summer.

For sophomore, Laura VanArsdel of Carlmont High School in Belmont, PYW was a chance for her to practice creative writing—her school recently cut mythology, creative writing and Shakespeare reading and writing electives.

VanArsdel’s story, “The Murderers of Friedrich Klein,” received the Fiction Honorable Mention award.

“I’m a World War II buff,” said VanArsdel of her piece’s theme, which takes inspiration from Ken Burns’ documentaries. “I find the whole conflict fascinating. Finding the words to express it was much more of a challenge.”

For VanArsdel and the other winners, PYW has given these young writers the ability to improve their creative writing skills when their high schools couldn't provide the platform to do so.

Here's a list of the other winners: 

  • Non-Fiction First Place: Sadie Goewey, , for "Tea Party in a Bubble."
  • Non-Fiction Honorable Mention: Rachel Rappoport, , for "Caged Bird."
  • Poetry First Prize: Erik Iverson, Carlmont High School, for "Memphis Downbeat Blues." 
  • Poetry Honorable Mention: Araceli Efigenio, Sequoia High School for "A Trapped Woman's Thoughts."

Check out this excerpt from VanArsdel's piece, "The Murderers of Friedrich Klein":

     The sounds of battle no longer reached Private Irving’s ears.  The whizzing bullets did not ignite fear in his heart.  No grenade blast made him cry for his mother. No shrieks of pain from fallen foes grated at his conscience.  The little alley through which he had been firing now seemed empty, so he charged forward, boots crunching the blood-stained snow. He scrambled up a flight of stone stairs at the end of the alley to observe the movements of his comrades.  From his new position, he saw the Germans signal the retreat.  Flooded with relief and glad to have escaped unharmed, his spirits lifted.  A group of Nazis in full flight rushed past his alley, trying to find an escape. Conqueror’s pride flooded Irving and with a savage whoop, he fired a round of bullets at the backs of the enemy.    

     When his shots ceased, only one German was standing.  This man - boy, really - stood terrified as Irving raised his loaded gun.  The boy’s hands were high enough to scrape the icicles on the roof above and his bright blue eyes were pleading for mercy.  “Ich ϋbergebe! Bitte, Kamerad,” cried the soldier. 

     “Sorry pal, I don’t speak German,” snarled Irving, as he pulled the trigger. 

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