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Building a community of writers


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November 29, 2012
On stage at Trombly Elementary School, having mimed the last of the student-penned short stories from his morning young authors writing workshops, Thomas Johnson, or Toma the Mime, concluded with the following statement: "The most important thing today was not the mime," he said. "It was the writing. Writing is one of the most important things you will ever learn."

It's also the most difficult subject to teach, Trombly principal Walt Fitzpatrick said, which is why he put apprehension aside and agreed to the Parent Teacher Organization's request to host Mobile Ed Productions' Young Authors Day assembly, of which Johnson is associated, at the school Tuesday, Nov. 13.

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"My take on assemblies, they have to be related to what we do," Fitzpatrick said about his initial hesitations. "To me, this is based in the core of what we do. Make some things fun, making some things more engaging. And that's what we're all about; it's getting them engaged."

Johnson accomplished just that. Whether as himself, walking classroom to classroom assisting students in the components of a story — person, place, problem and solution — and helping get their ideas on paper, or as Toma the Mime, performing some of the stories afterward on stage, Johnson had students engaged.

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"Those kids were mesmerized," Fitzpatrick said. "When they went back and wrote, teachers were like, it's incredible."

In small groups, students had about 30 to 40 minutes to create a story, focusing on the idea, keeping it simple and providing a resolution. They responded with a slew of creative, imaginative short stories, ranging from a monkey stealing a man's hot dog to a baseball player dancing in the batter's box before hitting an inside-the-park home run to a kid stuffing all his toys in his closet only to have them splash out onto his mom to a botched haircut from a barber to a man's sneeze propelling a stuck roller coaster cart forward to a screaming man getting pushed off the high dive to a boy floating in the sky after tying balloons to his bike, cutting them and landing in an alligator's mouth in the lake to a thief attempting to steal a girl's phone before an officer handcuffs him and takes him to Dunkin' Donuts.

Afterward, Johnson, a mime of more than 36 years and former Grosse Pointe resident, trained in Paris by renowned mime Marcel Marceau, mimed about eight stories each from both kindergarten to second grades and third to fifth grades at their respective afternoon assemblies.

"They were all pumped because they get to see their stories on stage," Fitzpatrick said. "They'll talk about that thing forever."

With the amount of excitement the workshop generated among students and teachers, Fitzpatrick hopes the inspiration to write lasts just as long.

"Hopefully, if we can inspire some kids to be engaged in the (writing) process through the year, it's worth every penny," he said.

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