A Doug's Life: Junior Writers Do Their Job

Having constructed, edited, critiqued and graded written compositions for almost 40 years, I sometimes feel like I've read every possible combination of words in the English language.

People continue to surprise me, however.

It happened again last week, when I sat down with two other judges to evaluate the journalistic efforts of the children of Menifee.

Along with Gayle DuRivage of Painted Earth and Shirley Wible of Sun City Library, I was asked to serve as a judge to determine the winner in three age groups for a writing contest sponsored by Arts Council Menifee and Menifee 24/7. As a group, we were impressed by the creativity of many of our young people. For myself, it was fun to witness the dawn of a new generation of communicators.

It's encouraging to know that as young as kindergarten age, the journalists of tomorrow can translate thoughts from their little brains to their little hands when writing about "What I Like About Menifee." It's interesting also to note the words some use and the phrases they have picked up from the adults.

Fortunately, these youngsters -- ranging from kindergarten age to eighth grade -- have not yet fallen victim to the "short-hand curse," which is how I describe the way text messaging and social media are contributing to the mutilation of the English language. But give them time; there's always high school. Before long, they might very well be filling up their essays with LOL, BTW and SMH (if you don't know what I'm talking about, ask a teenager).

I like to think there's still time to save them. Heck, I still spend hours trying to rehabilitate college students in my role as journalism professor. If I can have moderate success there, how much more success can we have by praising the work of the little ones as they try to master the language and the skill of creative writing?

Parents, I urge you to join me in this effort to encourage and promote creative writing at a young age. Moreover, I ask you to join me in congratulating these contest winners, who will be honored Tuesday night at the Menifee City Council meeting:

Abbey D. Chea -- K-2 grades age group
Jonathan Hoefler -- grades 3-5
Daniel Diaz -- grades 6-8
Jemena Nesbitt -- special recognition award

These students will read their winning entries at Tuesday's council meeting, and their work will be published on Menifee 24/7. Therefore, I will not repeat their complete works here. But I'm here to tell you, these honorees and all the young people showed enthusiasm and creativity in telling us why they like our fair city.

Some obvious patterns emerged in their writing. Many of the students wrote about how quiet and safe they felt their neighborhood is. They love the parks -- especially La Ladera Park. Many of them seem very familiar with the stores and restaurants in the area (Game Stop is a crowd favorite).

As judges, we saw a variety of writing styles -- everything from straight essay format to poetry to acrostic (look it up -- your kid knows). We discovered how expansive some young vocabularies are (what first grader writes "furthermore" or "don't get me started" in a typical homework assignment?).

We also chuckled as we figured out the unique ways words are spelled by young people who try their best to sound out what they want to say. The execution wasn't always flawless, but the intent was very serious.

In the end, we were looking for how well the students captured the hometown feel of Menifee that we all hope our children would have. We were looking for young writers who could state their reasons clearly and support them with examples. But most of all, we simply wanted evidence that little kids still are passionate about park swings, pet stores and neighborhood friends -- not just video games.

Thanks, kids, for coming through for us. And parents, on Tuesday I'll have more about what your kids wrote in a special tribute to the things Menifee kids say.