FARGO — Classroom 109 inside Morrill Hall looks like a normal college classroom; a slew of Starbucks cups, water bottles and cellphones lay strewn around a square formation of desks. Students open notebooks in anticipation of the morning lecture, but these North Dakota State University students are a little different than your average college students — these learners are a little younger.
The 13 students in the classroom range in age between 11 and 17 years old and are campers at the first annual Teens Creative Writing Summer Camp, which started Monday. Students from across Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead are taught by six visiting professors from NDSU, the University of North Dakota and the North Dakota State College of Science.
The camp started as a partnership between NDSU and the Red River Valley Writing Project, which facilitates art and writing programs for young writers across North Dakota and offers teacher training.
By mid-morning, students are already engrossed in a lecture about the writer's voice by Karl Bakkum, professor of English, communication, and performing arts at NDSCS.
"We’re hoping this gives them a head start in writing and introduces the idea of college," said Jamee Larson, camp director and NDSU creative writing professor. “Students are learning the stuff we teach in college.”
Over the four-day camp, students learn about developing character, storylines, conflict and dialogue in fiction, nonfiction and scriptwriting.
“I learned much more than I ever would have at school,” said Jillian Kalvoda, an eighth-grader at Horizon East in Moorhead.
“It’s not like school where the kids can be distracting,” added Allie Skauge, a seventh-grader at Horizon East. “Everyone wants to be here.”
Students write new stories or work on existing writing during the camp.
Kalvoda is working on the first chapter of her book, "The Purple Girl," a tale about a girl whose recently deceased mother begins visiting her in her sleep, so the girl sets off to bring her mother back to life.
Others are excited to learn about new genres and expand their writing.
“I never considered myself a creative writer,” said DelRae Steiner, an 11th grader at West Fargo High School whose honors English teacher encouraged her to attend the program. Steiner said the camp exposed her to different genres and helped her write more fiction and poetry.
Emily Gietzen, a seventh-grader at Sullivan Middle School, said she’s had the most fun with script writing. She now spends her free time writing plays for her cousins to perform and wants to be a writer or film director when she’s older.
"We wanted to provide an environment to explore different types of writing," Larson said. "Students get a little bit of exposure in schools, but they don’t spend as much time on creative writing."
Larson hopes the camp will continue, and expand, in future years.
"We give students so many rules about writing in school," Larson said. “Sometimes you have to just let them loose.”