Natalie Garcia (left) from Chalone Peaks Middle School in King City works on her essay on “The Red Pony” with the help of coach Adria Gillespie. (Photo by Sean Roney)

SALINAS VALLEY — Students from throughout South Monterey County had a chance to compete in essay writing to earn a scholarship during the Steinbeck Center’s Young Authors Day of Writing.

Top middle school students were nominated by their teachers to write an essay about “The Red Pony” with the help of a writing coach. Gonzales students gathered on March 2 in Salinas with other county youth, while Soledad, Greenfield and King City students gathered with those from San Luis Obispo at Greenfield on March 5.

“We wanted to make sure that every child got that experience that were nominated by their teachers to participate in the Day of Writing,” said Michele Speich, executive director of the National Steinbeck Center, about the reason for two writing sites.

Monterey County had 6,000 students in the program this year, and over the course of 17 years the Young Authors program has served more than 50,000 children, according to Speich. Nominations for top writers narrowed that field down to 47 students at the Greenfield writing session.

The event was preceded by a parent academy, in which families could view pieces of the Steinbeck Museum from Salinas. The program itself has also added new curriculum components centered around “The Pearl.”

Student writers at the writing days in Salinas and Greenfield were issued laptops in the morning with which to write, as well as a writing prompt based on “The Red Pony,” and a dictionary. There was a morning break to view Steinbeck museum pieces as well as see a live pony, then writing coaches came in to work one-on-one with the students.

The coaches left at 1:30 p.m., and the students were left to finish their papers to submit as an entry. Those finished entries would be reviewed by a panel of 12 judges for a scholarship ceremony set for May.

Speich said completing the process was about individual student dedication and ambition to see the paper through from prompt to submission

“Their dedication to reading and writing is phenomenal,” Speich said.

She noted a book would be published with the student writings titled, “The Gabilan Journal,” which will be available at the Steinbeck Museum bookstore in Salinas as well as in libraries throughout the county.

“I love the fact that you see the community come alongside the children,” Speich said.

She explained the coaches are volunteers from throughout the community, some being educators or school staff, with others being people who want to help with the writing process.

“That mentorship is a powerful thing,” Speich said. “It’s wonderful to have somebody alongside you and supporting you and telling you, ‘You can do this.’”

This year’s Day of Writing took place at the Greenfield Union School District offices, with past years having taken place in King City. Speich said future years may have the South Monterey County writing day take place in Soledad.

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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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