Focus On Writing Begins To Pay Off

December 13, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Glenelg High School's Lynsey Ring looks to her grandfather for inspiration.

A Cooperstown, N.Y., native, Rodney Ingles helped his family run a livestock farm and served his country as a World War II pilot.

He returned to America and contracted polio in his mid-30s. Now 74 and with one leg paralyzed, he's still working the soil and running the farm where he grew up.

Mr. Ingles is the subject of a touching story by Lynsey. Her reflections on a personal hero won her an award in a national writing contest sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English.

"He's a man I admire very much," says Lynsey, 17, who aspires to become an editor with a publishing company after graduating from college. "He's a very strong individual who's gone through a lot. If anyone needed a role model, he would be the one."

Lynsey is one of six Howard County students out of a total of more than 700 nationwide to win the award. Notification of the honors is sent to America's most prestigious colleges and universities so the winners can be considered for scholarships.

More than 4,000 students have received awards since the program began 35 years ago to encourage students to write and to better their chances of winning college scholarships.

This year, Howard County accounted for six of the 16 awards to students in the state of Maryland.

"It's amazing," said Allan Starkey, language arts coordinator for county schools. "I'm sorry we didn't have eight" winners to reflect the number of high schools in the county.

Mr. Starkey said this year's winners were among the first students to go through Howard County schools during a period in which writing was emphasized in almost all of the curriculum.

"We were fortunate to have capable kids and a fine teaching staff," he said.

Students who entered the writing contest went through a two-part process. They had to write a timed response to a choice of two topics: the influence of media on society, or their biggest challenge in high school.

Students also had to turn in a copy of their best work. Some submitted poetry, while others turned in short stories tackling such topics as parental abuse and isolation.

The winners, in addition to Lynsey, were:

* Eleanor Wilkinson of Howard High School. The 17-year-old senior penned a short story about an encounter between a gas station attendant and a troubled girl who draws strength from the meeting.

"She leaves feeling a little less alone," Eleanor says. "She feels there are people around her, and that she could relate to them. Her problems weren't totally solved, but she got some friendship."

In addition to writing, Eleanor plays soccer, runs track and is training to enter a triathlon. She is an assistant editor for the school's new literary magazine, which still is unnamed.

She says her winning entry for the contest was the result of days of frustration with other ideas.

"I liked the idea of an encounter between two random people, and I wanted to write something with dialogue," she says.

* Oakland Mills' Steven Cook, who submitted a selection of five poems, including one about last year's blizzard.

"At the time, I was in Silver Spring at a Unitarian Universalist youth conference," he says. "We were covered in snow, and we didn't know if we were going to get in or out. It was a poem about isolation."

The 17-year-old is a member of the school's "It's Academic" team. He began writing poetry two years ago as a way to express his feelings on paper. He likes poetry mainly because it allows him to write short pieces.

"I don't have the attention span to do other stuff," he says.

* Hammond's Mark Paskin, a news editor for the school newspaper. He wrote a story about an emotionally abused boy whose life fell apart when his dog died in a car accident.

"The boy had completely internalized his world because his world was fraught with peril and abuse," he says. "The dog was his only link to the world. The story spoke sharply against parental abuse."

Mark, 17, credits his English teacher, Sherry Conklin, for continuing his interest in writing. "She was just so interested in what we wrote, and she would read it with obvious pleasure. It just kept you going," he says.

In addition to writing, Mark plays trombone for various local orchestras, including the Peabody Symphony.

* Wilde Lake's Shirin Sinnar, who earlier this year won a $10,000 writing award from the United States Institute of Peace for an essay on America's role in the new world order. For this contest, she wrote a story about a woman who was tortured.

But she thinks her answer to the timed response clinched her award. She focused on the media's influence on society and wrote that it could be both good and bad. The media serves its purpose well as a watchdog on government and an arbiter of free speech, she said.

But it "also has great power to potentially manipulate and become an organism of power itself," she says.

She wants to become a journalist. "I'm interested in reporting about political affairs," she says.

"Journalism has the potential of changing people's mind and making a difference."

* Natalie Froman of Wilde Lake, the senior class president, who submitted a narrative about a woman who reminisces about her childhood and finds that those days were the best parts of her life. Natalie, a National Honor Society member, says the story was in part autobiographical.

"She misses the time spent with her family and the carefree aspects of childhood, the light-heartedness," she says.

Natalie doesn't have much time to spend writing. She is a 4.0 grade-point-average student who plays soccer for the school and for a traveling team.

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