Written by Cliff McCollum
There was “Howlin’ in the Halls” last week at Opelika Middle School, but no disturbances or incident reports occurred.
Howling in the Halls was a way for all students at OMS to become involved with creative writing. Across the curriculum, OMS teachers found ways to incorporate creative writing into their lessons to help celebrate the National Day of Writing.
However, OMS chose to add its own spin to the event by dedicating the day’s activities to Cathy Buckhalt, a 28-year veteran English teacher retired from the middle school who still assists the Opelika system as a writing consultant.
“She has done so much for our school and our school system with emphasizing reading and writing,” Patsy Lewis, program coordinator, said. “She’s committed to ensuring all students are successful as creative writers.”
To Buckhalt, the teaching of writing is more than just employment – it’s a calling.
“It’s my passion because every child has a voice,” Buckhalt said. “Personal voices sometimes don’t always get expressed. You could have a quiet student in class, but when he gets to write, you can learn so much about who he is.”
Buckhalt said she sees writing as a means of escape and expression for students.
“Writing is your socially acceptable venue for expressing all emotions,” Buckhalt said. “Express those feelings and put it in your writing.”
Both Buckhalt and Lewis said the Opelika school system has put a tremendous amount of effort into emphasizing the importance of both writing and teaching writing in classrooms across the system.
“The question that’s being asked is ‘How do we teach writing and have it emphasized in all content classes?’ Lewis said. “Opelika is finding ways to do it and do it well.”
Buckhalt cited the example of Mr. Daniels, one of the middle school’s art teachers, who has his students create fables, myths and short stories before illustrating them.
“Teachers can find ways to work writing in to any class, because writing is in every class,” Buckhalt said.
Buckhalt said she was happy to see the school system place a value on writing, as she said some have jettisoned writing instruction to focus more attention on activities geared solely toward standardized achievement testing.
“If the system had not embraced us as a K through 12 program, I don’t think we’d see the concept of the writing community we see now,” Buckhalt said. “I also don’t think we’d see the better writing scores we’ve been seeing.”
Both Buckhalt and Lewis said they have worked hard to encourage teachers to model their own writing in the classrooms, showing students that writing is essential in many areas.
“We’re better models than the textbooks,” Buckhalt said. “Teachers should be models for their students, and most of our teachers are good writing models every day for their kids.”
Buckhalt helped found the middle school’s literary magazine, Lasting Impressions, during her tenure there, and the publication still continues on, picked up by “wonderful teachers who know the value of writing in kids’ lives,” according to Buckhalt.