group photo of Barrio Writers' participants

Several young aspiring creative writers recently participated in Barrio Writers, a free weeklong summer writing program held at Stephen F. Austin State University. During the week, participants honed their creative writing skills by reading books, poems and song lyrics. Afterward, they were encouraged to relate these discussions to their own experiences through writing.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas - After opening their composition notebooks, several students dive into their imaginations as they begin to respond to the free-writing prompt, "Why or when is it important for your voice to be heard?"

In only its second year, Barrio Writers, a free weeklong summer writing program held at Stephen F. Austin State University, has doubled its attendance with 22 students ranging in age from 13 to 21 participating.

"It's been fun to have this group of young people voluntarily spend a week of their summer involved in creative writing," said Dr. Heather Olson Beal, SFA associate professor of secondary education and Barrio Writers coordinator. "It was a successful week, and I'm so pleased with the work the students produced."

The program involved afternoon creative writing workshops that culminated with a public reading of the students' works. During each session, students read books, poems and song lyrics before discussing them as a group and then wrote for 30 minutes. Through discussion, students related the reading to their personal experiences by answering questions. They also shared their writing and received critiques and constructive feedback. Along with the workshops, students participated in multicultural field trips throughout the week.

SFA faculty and staff members Olson Beal, Dr. Lauren Burrow, assistant professor of elementary education, Dr. Chrissy Cross, assistant professor of secondary education and educational leadership, and Alicia De La Rosa-Millard, secretary in SFA's Office of Multicultural Affairs, led the workshops and served as writing advisers.

"As a child, I didn't have a writing mentor to encourage me, and that is one of the reasons I decided to help this year," De La Rosa-Millard said. "Sometimes, young adults don't fully realize the great voice they have and writing talent they possess. I wanted to help them find their voices."