In Their Own Words

Sixth graders in Jennifer Rathkopf’s English class are tackling topics like love, fear and forgiveness — and in the process are learning about life and themselves.

For the course’s Personal Narrative unit, Rathkopf explained that “Students are picking points in their life when they learned something: to persevere, to deal with the pandemic, to cope with death and loss, to push past fear and take risks. They're also writing about people who have inspired them or taught them lessons.”

Students have discovered that sharing personal experiences — like surviving a tough soccer practice or getting in trouble with a parent — is a challenging but rewarding endeavor. In addition to writing reflections, students are collaborating to revise and edit each other’s work. 

Emma Smith ’28 is writing about “being an introvert and having to speak in public.” Before selecting the topic of the importance of teamwork in a basketball game, Bobby Clement ’28, found that “getting started was the most difficult part of the assignment.” Amalia Heller ’28 chose to describe her relationship with an uncle who has mental and physical disabilities. “I enjoyed writing this because I learned new things about myself as a writer and new things about writing: new words and how to show, not tell,” she said.

“There isn't one universal thread among the topics they've picked, other than that these moments were transformative in big or little ways,” Rathkopf added. 

Some students are going above the required classroom assignment and submitting their essays to The 3rd Annual New York Times Personal Narrative Writing Contest, which invites students to tell a short story about a meaningful life experience. 

Both Heller and Smith are all in and are looking forward to seeing if their essays get published. 

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