This week, two students from the Mississippi School for Math and Science read poems they wrote on “Rural Voices Radio,” a Mississippi Public Broadcasting program.
The program is a two-minute segment that airs on MPD during Fresh Air. During that segment, a student reads a poem or short prose piece he or she has written about growing up in Mississippi.
During Tuesday’s segment, senior Sumayia Young, of West Point, read her piece “The Crooked Letter” about memories of her grandmother. Thursday featured junior Adam Stewart, from Brookhaven, read his piece, “Flea-Hop Farm.”
Young and Stewart are two of 13 students from Emma Richardson’s creative writing class at MSMS who submitted pieces of writing to Mississippi Writing/Thinking Institute (MWTI), which partners with MPB to produce Rural Voices Radio. Volunteers at MWTI go over each submitted piece from students from around the state and give them feedback so they can be featured on the radio.
“Some of them get a response that you are ready to record, and some of them, get the response of, ‘Please revise and focus just on this part or just on that part or expand on this part a little more,'” Sherry Swain, former director of MWTI and current volunteer with Rural Voices Radio, said. “No child gets an absolute refusal.”
Swain was the director of MWTI in 2003 when the program began. She, along with Suzanne Thompson, a teacher-consultant with MWTI, and Bob Holland, a program manager at MPB, got Rural Voices going.
The program is great for students of all ages to get feedback on their writing, as well as get an audience, a deadline and a time constraint, Swain said. Volunteers from the program travel to the schools and record the students reading their pieces. The writers — who range from first- and second-graders to college-age students — get to run through their pieces before being recorded.
Last spring, Richardson learned of the program and encouraged her students to enter pieces.
“It’s excellent,” she said. “It’s wonderful because all writers write for an audience.”
Thirteen of Richardson’s students submitted 17 pieces.
“We were pleased and gratified that the pieces really had very few editing suggestions,” Richardson said.
Only some of the students who submitted pieces were recorded because the weekend Rural Voices came to MSMS was a weekend that many students were home for Mother’s Day.
Stewart’s piece is about his grandparents’ farm. The poem describes the hard work which they did and how they conveyed emotions through their work rather than through words, all of which he remembers from watching them when he was younger.
Stewart said the staff who set up the recording equipment and worked with the students were helpful when Stewart was trying to figure out how to voice his piece. Carly Sneed, a junior from Pontotoc who has three pieces recorded by Rural Voices Radio, said the staff gave her a lot of tips on how to read her pieces aloud as well.
“It was very relaxed,” she said. “They were very open to us making mistakes and then doing it again.”
One of Sneed’s poems, “Atlas,” has also won the Eudora Welty Award for Creative Writing at the University of Mississippi and Eudora Welty Ephemera Prize Competition for High School Students at Mississippi University for Women. “Atlas,” like Sneed’s other pieces, is about the South.
“I think the South has a very complex identity and as someone growing up here, it’s very important for me to try and understand it,” she said.
Sneed also credited MSMS with encouraging her and helping her to craft her writing.
“We’re all good readers, that’s how we got in,” she said. “What MSMS does is take good readers and make good writers. I never wrote before MSMS.”