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Celebrate National Literacy Month with Clarke Writing Award Winners

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Not only is September the start of a new school year, it’s also National Literacy Month.

Literacy is a crucial skill for children. It’s the backbone for all other learning and helps build self-confidence as children see their reading and writing skills develop over time. Once mastered, literacy provides the tools for a child to become a lifelong learner.

It’s a particularly important skill for children who have hearing loss. Even with the best hearing technology available, children who are deaf or hard of hearing may not have access to the full spectrum of sound. That makes three core literacy skills more challenging for them:

  • phonological awareness—understanding the relationship between sounds and letters

  • decoding or sounding out words

  • fluency—the speed and ease with which they read

As such, it’s important for families to model good literacy habits and create a reading- and writing-friendly environment for children at home. For example, with younger children, try curling up before bedtime to read a story complete with silly character voices or read in front of your child and explain why it’s important — perhaps you need information or you simply enjoy stories by a particular author. It’s also important to incorporate writing into your child’s day. If they aren’t inclined to write stories, have them help you write a grocery list, a letter to a friend or even some instructions for their video game. As long as they’re writing, they’re developing literacy skills.

Activities such as singing, dramatic/role playing, telling stories, writing and talking about books can also support literacy skills — and don’t feel like homework for children who may be reluctant to crack open a book.

As children become more capable of reading to themselves, it’s important they have access to a variety of types of reading materials. Books, magazines, graphic novels — the format matters less than the fact that they’re reading something! To boost interest in writing, have writing materials easily accessible. And not just pencils and plain paper—depending on the child’s interests, items like personalized stationery, stickers or decorated notebooks/scrapbooks can make writing more fun (and therefore, more likely to happen).

Of course, educators play a key role in boosting literacy, too. Clarke emphasizes early literacy learning in its Birth to Age Three and Preschool Programs, but this focus on literacy continues through our K-8 Program and Mainstream Services work as well. Nurturing and growing literacy skills is an ongoing process and must continually be fostered to establish a solid foundation for future academic and career success.

Supporting Ongoing Literacy Development

For that reason, Clarke’s K-8 Program bestows two writing awards each year — one award for grades three and four and one for grades five through eight.

Nico, a winner of the Shirley Minshall Hewlings Award for Creative Writing in 2021, for his short story submission, "Leprechaun."

Nico, a winner of the Shirley Minshall Hewlings Award for Creative Writing in 2021, for his short story submission, “Leprechaun.”

The Shirley Minshall Hewlings Award for Creative Writing was established in 2009 by her family, in memory of the grandmother of Clarke alum Emily Hewlings. In a video announcing the winners, Emily recalled how even as her grandmother lost many of her memories to Alzheimer’s disease, she fondly recalled a favorite childhood moment: Winning a short story contest in elementary school in the 1930s.

The award celebrates her lifelong love of reading and writing and encourages other students to use this outlet to share their personal stories and rich imaginations.

Award Winners

For 2021, there were two winners. Fifth-grader Danny won with a personal poem, sharing a series of short but descriptive details that slowly converge to provide a clear picture of who he is — his interests, daily life and dreams.

Danny, fifth grader in Clarke's K-8 Program, and a winner of Shirley Minshall Hewlings Award for Creative Writing in 2021 for his poem submission.

Danny, fifth grader in Clarke’s K-8 Program, and a winner of Shirley Minshall Hewlings Award for Creative Writing in 2021 for his poem submission.

Eighth-grader Nico also received the award for his short story, “Leprechaun,” which included evocative imagery and a surprising twist ending.

Congratulations to Danny and Nico — and every student who submitted their work.

Further Reading

Clarke encourages families to read aloud to children when they’re young—and make it fun. Children who enjoy books and stories are more likely to become independent, fluent readers and critical thinkers. As Linda Findlay, Danny’s literacy teacher at Clarke, noted during the ceremony, “Being a good reader is thinking about what you are reading when you read… And good readers read on their own—at home in their own time.”

Learn more about literacy challenges and how to help students who are deaf or hard of hearing in “Supporting Crucial Literacy Skills and Identifying Hidden Challenges” from the fall 2020 issue of Mainstream News, on pages 4-5.

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