South Charlotte

Literary journal gives students a voice

At Providence High School, the students in Marva Hutchinson's honors English class write, and they do it well. The students under the direction of Hutchinson, 40, work together to produce the literary journal "Roars and Whispers," which includes a collection of essays, profiles, critical reviews, short stories, poems, photography and art.

All students at Providence can submit their work for possible inclusion.

Fifteen years ago, "Roars and Whispers" started as an afterschool activity where students selected poems and "glue sticked it on to paper, photocopied it, (and) Kinko's made a heavy cover," said Hutchinson, who's been the advisor from the beginning.

It's now a prize-winning publication, winning awards at the state and the national level.

For six years straight, the journal has won the Tar Heel Award for the highest scoring student publication of its kind from the North Carolina Scholastic Media Association.

The North Carolina Literary and Historical Association awarded the 2010 edition with first place in the Student Publications Awards. The National Scholastic Press Association gave it an All-American rating. In 2007, the National Scholastic Press Association awarded the magazine the Pacemaker award.

"The oldest and most prestigious award in scholastic journalism," said Hutchinson.

They may have won awards, but Hutchinson is not directing her students on how to do it.

"I try to tell them that I am the last word, but I'm not the first word, and I don't want to be the first person with the question," she said. "I want them to learn to lead and the more and more I see, I think that's a real unique thing. But it's a difficult thing to teach."

They work collaboratively in pairs on the pages of the magazine, sitting side by side, the older, more experienced students helping the younger ones.

Every summer, they travel to Chapel Hill to attend a design workshop at UNC.

"The design is the most difficult part....If they write something, I can be really definitive," said Hutchinson. "This line's not working. I know exactly what's wrong with it. Sometimes in design, you don't really know exactly."

Madelyn Usher, 17, the design editor, has been on the staff of "Roars and Whispers" for three years.

Now, a senior, Usher remembered what it was like her first year on staff.

"My sophomore year, I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of work," she said.

"She (Hutchinson) doesn't hold our hand and walk us through it....I heard people say the learning curve is like a brick wall . . . because it's almost impossible to keep up with everything and know how to do everything," said Usher.

With each year Usher adjusted to the demands and her writing improved.

"At first it's really scary, but it's also so incredibly rewarding because I can remember the first piece I wrote ... was terrible," she said. "And now ... I see visible improvements. I never designed before I came here, and now I'm the design editor."

It may be difficult for the students, but it's also difficult for their teacher.

"It's hard to let go and it's hard to let them make their own mistakes," said Hutchinson. "Sometimes it would be quicker and certainly easier if I just interjected,"

Brynn Claypoole, a senior copy editor, has been on the staff since she was a freshman.

"I'm actually a very strong math-science person," she said. "When I was a freshman, I signed up for a computer apps one class and ... got thrown into creative writing."

Hutchinson encouraged her to keep the class, said Claypoole, 18.

"It's been very interesting for me because I don't usually think in this way," said Claypoole.

When Claypoole started the class, her classmates taught her what to do.

Today, she helps teach the younger students on staff.

"We can teach these guys all these grammar rules, and we don't have to have grammar lessons," she said. "We learn from each other."

Claypoole credited her experience with "Roars and Whispers" for helping her stretch as a writer into more personal essays.

"I'm not a very outgoing person, and I don't really like sharing my thoughts, but with this environment of sitting down and having people read your writing and talk about it, that really helped me open up and write more about how I felt," said Claypoole.

If you glance in room 209 at Providence High on a Monday or Wednesday around 1 p.m., you're likely to see the students sitting with their desks in groups facing each other talking about their work.

They might be discussing a line of poetry or discussing the layout of a page.

The student staff works diligently to live up to the motto of "Roars and Whispers" - "Whether through the strength of our roars or the softness of our whispers, we will be heard."