WSHS students advocate for change with writing project
The students in Sarah Detrick’s Cultural Studies class at Westerville South High School are wrapping up a project where they are using words to fight for issues that matter to them.
Inspired by Nic Stone’s young adult novel “Dear Martin,” students are applying Stone’s use of different writing styles to explore topics such as climate change, human trafficking and social justice. Among the genres they’re covering: persuasive letter writing, where they are composing letters to leaders who make decisions on their topics.
“I’m learning that my voice is important,” senior Tyler Johnson said. “I’m going to be sending my letter to an (Ohio) representative. That means a lot to me. It’s really cool that she could be reading it. But it’s really important to me that I could write something that she could read.”
Detrick launched the new writing project after her class read “Dear Martin'' ahead of Stone’s visit to Westerville last month. Stone served as the keynote speaker at the Westerville Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration and spoke to high school students across the district the following day.
“Dear Martin” inspired Detrick to merge previous lessons on exploring different writing mediums and researching a global topic into one project. She used the book as reference material for students, pointing to how Stone addressed racial profiling through a variety of writing styles.
As part of the project, students researched their topics, learning how to navigate through databases and evaluate online sources and news stories. Their first writing assignment focused on the persuasive letter with a call to action. They followed up with a fictional news story, writing characters based on research and what they learned about their topic. They then composed a play and capped the project with a writing medium of their choice such as poetry or a rap.
For Detrick, the project is more than a writing lesson.
“I hope that it teaches them that their words have power,” she said. “Sometimes people discount young people and their voices and I want them to know, as you are seniors in high school and you are going out into the world, not only does your voice matter now, but it will in your future.”
“So how can you apply these writing skills to people if it’s in an email or a formal letter? How do you help people to see your point of view in a way that can impact the world in a positive way?”
Johnson said he hasn’t worked on a project like this before and appreciates the opportunity to express himself and his passion for youth rights in different ways.
He focused his letter to Ohio Rep. Munira Abdullah on corporal punishment, citing studies on its impact on youth and encouraging the state lawmaker to “use the power you have earned and stand up for one of our most vulnerable populations.”
“The way our statehouse is aggressively targeting vulnerable populations currently shows that it's more important now more than ever that we have someone to look out for us,” he wrote in his letter.
For the play writing assignment, he drafted a conversation between a father and son talking about how an acquaintance of the father was sent to jail after his daughter reported him for spanking her. While the father argued that the dad should be able to punish his daughter if she did something wrong, the son countered that physical punishment doesn’t have to be the answer.
Senior Olivia Lundy focused her letter on the Big Walnut Local Schools Board of Education’s decision to restrict displays — including Pride flags — on school property. Her letter to district leaders includes data gathered by the Trevor Project, an organization founded to prevent suicide in LGBTQ youth; her journey growing up as a queer youth; and a plea to consider the impact the policy has on her peers at Big Walnut.
“In the absence of a safe space, even in the absence of a sticker on the door and a piece of colorful cloth, they will feel alone and isolated,” she wrote. “That is the environment that will be curated at your schools.”
Her article assignment covered student protests in response to a new requirement where students need parental permission to use their preferred pronouns in schools. As for the play, Lundy plans to take a light-hearted approach to a child coming out to a parent.
“Every time I start writing about sexuality and queerness, I always tend to write about the bad things the community has gone through. I want to do a positive take on it.”
- Westerville City Schools
- Westerville South High School