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Thursday, April 19 Opinion

The Home Team: Summer school for the next J.K. Rowling

It was back to school last week. Writing school. For the fourth consecutive summer, I taught my workshop, "So You Wanna Be a Writer?" at Norwalk Community College's Kids College -- for boys and girls going into grades six through eight. Three hours a day. Monday through Friday. That's a lot of time sitting in a classroom, writing. Right smack in the middle of the summer.

I'm curious about it, so once I reach a comfort level with the kids, I'll usually ask them: What made you choose this course? Do you like writing? Do you really want to be a writer? Or did you parents just want to get you out of their hair for a week? Believe it or not, most of them are actually there because they want to put words on a page.

But not all.

I had a couple of self-appointed comedians in this year's batch. On Day One, after I read to the class a thought-provoking piece on social media by a precocious girl in the group, I asked for comments. Class Clown No. 1 raised his hand. "It was good," he said.

I asked if we could maybe dig a little deeper. Clown No. 2 added, "It was really good."

They were both tremendously entertained by this, and re-enacted their clever little song and dance after every reading, for the better part of three days. Finally, on Wednesday, I said to the two comics, "You know what it means to kill a joke? Well, you've done it." And then I asked them to only raise their hands if they had a legitimate comment. Wish I'd done that a few days earlier.

But most of the kids were awesome -- as they've been every summer. One of the younger girls, N., always begged for more time when we did an in-class writing exercise. "I don't write well under pressure," she told me. "I write better when I'm inspired." A slightly older girl, A., had a startlingly extensive vocabulary. She knew almost every obscure word I used in our games. Finally, I asked her about it. "When I'm bored, I read the dictionary," she told me.

On Friday, they got to return the favor, when I gave them this prompt: "My week in Kids College: The good, the bad, and the ridiculous." Here's what I heard:

"I liked my week in this class. It taught me a lot and there were many fun and educational games. Fictionary was my favorite. I was so close to winning! My only regret is that there were too many assignments. It was full of pressure and there wasn't enough time for each essay."

Yup, N., the young girl who needed inspiration.

"This week was full of dumb jokes, meeting new friends, and writing. We wrote dialogue, humor, action, and even definitions. It was an odd week, full of an odd cast of characters. But I still had fun. Even when I got out of hand. To Mr. Herman, I say `adieu' . . ."

Clown No. 1, of course.

And finally, this from one of the more hesitant writers in the class -- presented with spelling errors and all:

"During this week in college I came into the class not really interested in wrighting [sic] but I walk out interested in wrighting [sic]. I found out that I am not as bad as I thought at wrighting [sic] and I met a really cool teacher. So mostly good and I enjoyed my one week at college."

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If we did smiley-faces in this column, I'd put one here.

Hank Herman is a Westport writer, and "The Home Team" appears every other Friday. You can also keep up with Hank's adventures on his blog, "Beagle Man," on the Westport News website, at: http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman/ To reach Hank, e-mail him at DoubleH50@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @BeagleManHank.