A petition to save Prince William County School’s Center for Fine and Performing Arts (CFPA) Creative Writing specialty program has received over 500 signatures and recognition from some of the most celebrated novelists of our time, including Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman.
According to the petition, while other CFPA programs will be moving into the 12th high school upon its scheduled opening in 2016, the creative writing program will not, nor will it remain in its current form at Woodbridge Senior High School. The petition was posted online Sunday morning by Sarah Crossland who graduated from Woodbridge in 2007 and has since gone on to teach composition at the college level at Longwood University.
In a conversation with Prince William County Director of Communications Phil Kavits, he said that students and parents should not be alarmed that creative writing is going away in the county.
“There will continue to be creative writing within Prince William Public Schools,” Kavits said.
Kavits explained that although at this point, it is not being offered as a specialty program at the new school, creative writing will still be offered as elective courses.
Kavits said that while it may seem to CFPA teachers that this was a late-breaking decision, in another light, it is an early decision, since it is still “two and half years away from opening. It has no principal yet, no course list.”
Kavits said the decision of which CFPA programs would be included at the new school was made in consultation with the superintendent’s staff and a variety of people. He believes the decision was based upon student interest, and Prince William County Schools did not want to advertise any program that would not be offered in the future. However, he said that with the continuation of non-specialty creative writing programs, there is always the possibility that the program could be re-launched.
However, supporters of the program wonder why it needs to be dismantled at all.
“I was really thrown by this decision because I had always seen the creative program’s successes, all the awards those in it won. It seems to be one of the more successful programs within the CFPA,” Crossland said.
She said that when she was in school, it was very popular, and her involvement in the program had led her to the direction she now pursues in life.
“It really gave me a foundation for my way of life. I’m trying to think what my life would be like without creative writing. It has just become so integral in my life, the reading and writing,” Crossland said.
Other alumni obviously felt the same, based upon their signatures and comments. Some professors even commented how extraordinary the program is and how they like to accept graduates of the program as they offer so much to any college writing program.
Former Woodbridge Creative Writing teacher and program cofounder, Eric Hoefler said the 4-year creative writing program is quite different from the elective program offered in most Prince William County base schools.
“Time is obviously a huge factor. You spend one year doing a thing, verses four years doing a thing,” said Hoefler
However, the progression of the program also sets it apart. Like a college program, it starts off with introductory courses and then evolves into more focused genre studies. By students’ senior years, they are preparing to publish and market their work and are building college portfolios.
Hoefler also believes that the skills students pick up in creative writing classes help make them better students across the board.
“I noticed for one, top GPAs in the school were coming out of creative writing,” he said.
They also told him they were way ahead of their classmates because of all the reading and writing they had done through the program. The program also encouraged students who were otherwise not naturally academically inclined.
“On the other hand,” some student had told him, “I may have not been the best student academically, but creative writing is why I came to school; it’s the way I was able to handle pretty stressful stuff in my life.”
Hoefler used Twitter to reach out to modern speculative fiction write Margaret Atwood, author of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and popular fiction and graphic novelist Neil Gaiman, best known as the author of the comic book series, “The Sandman,” and was very excited that they responded with their support. He said it shows that professional writers believe programs like this are valuable to young people.
He said he believes it is important to preserve enrichment programs like creative writing, especially when education in undergoing a kind of crisis.
“Two, maybe three big things are happening in the world of education,” he said. “I’m not saying this is a direct result of that, but test scores are a huge driving factor, and so is big data. Education is getting very much about big data, and poetry is not big numbers.”
Hoefler said arts are also being underappreciated, perhaps unconsciously or unintentionally through the emphasis on STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math], but educators are starting to realize that the arts can complement those programs.
One young scientist, Scott Stackley, explained on the petition how creative writing at Woodbridge helped him in his field:
The lessons in creativity and language and expression have affected my view of the sciences I study and have paved the way for groundbreaking research in particle physics, signal processing and computer sciences as much or more than any college course or research position I’ve had yet. Diversity in education is strength in education; and diversity such as learning how to write various forms of poetry, identifying thematic elements in writing and finding one’s own writing style and voice all contribute to abilities in reasoning and critical problem solving skills that have given me an unparalleled ability to design complex, low-level algorithms to solve seemingly impossible physics problems. Without the CFPA, I would be neither the scientist nor person I am today.
Hoefler also said that when students write on the petition creative writing “saved their life,” he knows they are not being hyperbolic, because that has been the legacy of the program.
Supporters of the petition do not know exactly who made the decision, or why they made the decision that they did, but supporters are planning on presenting their petition to the school board on Oct. 17. In the meantime, they are asking supporters to sign the petition.
© 2013 – 2014, Stacy Shaw. All rights reserved.