The Nebraska Writing Project in cooperation with Homestead National Monument conducted a Youth Writing Festival at Homestead on September 20, 2016. Nine teachers and 98 high school students, met, attended sessions presented by Dr. Robert Brooke of the University of Nebraska and Director of the Nebraska Writing Project, Diana Weis, board member of the NeWP and teacher at Cather Elementary School, Millard, Nebraska, and Jan Knispel, co-director and board member of NeWP, and adjunct instructor with MidPlains Community College, Valentine extension campus.
After the students viewed the Homestead National Monument video on the history of the Homestead Act and the people who lived in this area over time. Diana Weis lead a student presentation on a quotation from the film regarding ownership “What do you own and what owns you?” Students responded in various writings which were shared at the end of the presentation.
Weis’s second session focused on the idea of journey. This was inspired by Daniel Freeman’s homesteading the land Homestead National Monument now honors. Writers timelined journeys and explorations narrowing theirs to a single moment. The first approach to writing was to speak through the voice and age of that moment. Second, to change perspective and write from second person, speaking to themselves in the moment. Finally, they moved outside of the moment, changing facts in the story to create an altered outcome.
Jan Knispel lead a presentation on oral history. She gave the students an opportunity to hear a repetition of an oral history of her grandmother Bertha Kolbe Newsom, her father James Knispel’s World War II experience which related to the movie Monuments Men or the story of her being born in a famous blizzard. The students chose to hear about her father’s experience.
Activities included Dr. Brooke’s place-based writing experience focusing on immigrant and homestead experiences of the past. Dr. Brooke’s presentation was on writing our own family immigration stories, in connection with the Nebraska immigration stories that are part of the Homestead Act. The idea was to ponder 1) who in our family actually came to Nebraska 2) what they were leaving behind and 3) what they were coming for. We wrote about this, shared our stories with an “elbow partner,” and wrote a list of questions to ask family elders/other informants when we got back home from Homestead.
After a sack lunch outside the Educational Center, students and teachers were put into groups to experience a Writing Marathon led by Diana Weis. Nearly 100 students and their teachers wandered the grounds of the park experiencing the forest paths, and the tall grass prairie. At the end of the marathon, students shared their favorite piece of the day in small groups and then to the large group.
Plans are now underway for a teacher workshop at Homestead National Monument and for another youth writing festival.