Creative writing contest offers Shelby County Schools students cash prizes and self-expression

Peer Power is hosting a creative writing contest with cash prizes for Shelby County Schools students in the ninth through twelfth grades during the 2019-20 school year. 

It asks students to speak to issues surrounding themes like the novel coronavirus, technology, the power of choice, and goal-setting. Students can submit short fiction and nonfiction stories.

Peer Power developed the contest as a way to continue assisting students academically while their out of school and encourage emotional mindfulness.

"Every day there is news that changes their expectations for the immediate future," said Sydney Wright, Peer Power’s contest coordinator and director of storytelling.

"This contest gives the students a stable platform to express the emotional reactions they are having every day. It can help those students organize their ever-changing emotional responses and thoughts into an understandable form ..."

Submissions are due May 22. Find more information here

Students will receive virtual support from Peer Power Success Coaches. They'll work together on grammar, sentence structure, word choice, emotional mindfulness, and translating ideas into a story format with an audience in mind. The coaches will then review and score the works and select the winners.

Peer Power is a Memphis-based nonprofit that words with public schools to recruit, train, and employ college students as coaches and mentors in classrooms.

It aims to reduce the student-to-instructor ratio; improve high schoolers’ grades, test scores, and college and job readiness; provide college students with job experience and financial means to stay in school; and increases teachers’ job satisfaction, performance, and retention.

"We want to show SCS students that they have the ability to really be somebody in our community," said Wright of Peer Power's overarching mission. "We want to give students multiple resources to be strong academically and emotionally."

Peer Power has previously hosted academic contests for math, poetry writing, and carpentry. Wright said this is their first creative writing contest that she's aware of. 

"Based on the amount of submissions from Shelby County Schools students so far and the subjects of their writing, we will host the contest again," she said. "It’s proven to be a strong resource for students to be competitive while expressing their creativity [productively].

Wright said the contest and coaches offer a different take on writing that the lessons learned in school. There's no grading expectation and there's freedom in that. 

Creative writing, she said, also allows students a chance at subjective and abstract expression and a chance to explore topics other genres and formats can't accommodate.

"We recognize that while life is happening all around school-aged children, they need emotional support and outlets to express," said Peer Power's program director, Cortney Richardson. "Writing is a proven therapeutic technique and we encourage students to embrace it."

Find more resources and ways to help in English and Spanish in our Memphis Area COVID-19 Resource Guide.

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Read more articles by Cole Bradley.

Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and graduate of the University of Memphis. Cole's worked locally as a researcher and community engagement strategist and began contributing to High Ground in Jan 2017.