Two teams from Wayne School of Engineering placed in the Top 10 during the recent state finals of a writing competition presented by the N.C. Association for Scholastic Activities.
Twenty North Carolina schools qualified at the regional level to advance to the state contest, called The Quill.
Both of the local teams wound up in ninth place at the state level.
Four students from each team were given prompts to write on a different topic. They had 90 minutes to complete the task using such writing styles as problem-solving, analytical and creative writing.
Tony Blair, seventh- and eighth-grade social studies teacher, said he recruited some of the school's strongest writers and put together his teams, one representing middle school and another from the high school.
"It was fun," said ninth-grader Charlotte Eovine. "Most of us have done it before and it was really fun. It's not like the other competitions where you have to practice, practice, practice.
"This time you just kind of show up and do what you love, which is writing."
Freshman Bryce Herring agreed, adding that at WSE students already do a lot of writing.
"Putting it in a competition setting is kind of like saying, hey, this is not for a grade," he said. "It's just to see how well you can really do, under the pressure of only having 90 minutes, so the skills you're gaining are not only something to do what you love but also something you use on a daily basis in school."
Freshman Kamille Smith said she has always been fond of English and writing, especially argumentative, which has been her category during such competitions. To be pitted against students from across the state just intensifies the experience, which is why she joined the team, she says.
"I like having the competition element because most of the times in writing in school you're not competing but when you go to the full competition, you don't know the topic you're going to write about," said Hannah Evelyn Cox, a ninth-grader. "It's really challenging but you have to work.
"I think that really pushes you as a writer and it really prepares you for any writing challenges you have."
Wyat Hamilton, also a freshman, says his motivation for participating came from his love of the art of writing as well. It is fun as well as interesting, he said.
At the same time, the students said, it can be a bit challenging, mostly because of the time element.
"If you focus on the time it's really going to mess with your head," Herring said. "I mean, personally, writing just kind of comes to you as you're writing each sentence. If they say 30 minutes left or 15 minutes, you need to wrap it up.
"But other than that, you just kind of have to not pay attention to the competition or the time. Just do what you've been doing since you've been in school."
"Exactly," chimed in Hamilton. "But I also think you need a mental preparation for what you're going into -- how you're going to present your argument, what you're doing with it and making sure that as you write you present it logically so you can sequence it."
There is a rubric for what judges use to determine scoring, such as grammar and style, but each student's work is submitted anonymously to ensure fairness, Blair said.
The school essentially gets students ready for such a competition, simply because that is part of the WSE premise.
"The high quality intensity on writing that we have across the curriculum in the school, because one of our philosophies is writing every day in every class," he said.
"Because they get that consistent exposure from sixth grade through 12th grade, they have built-in practice throughout the classes that they take every day, every semester, no matter what discipline it is."
This marked Blair's first year working with the teams, but the school has participated for four years, he said.
With the caliber of students he is seeing at the school, he said he is building up the program and feels confident they will fare well in future events.
"They are a fantastic group of young writers and are very highly qualified to fit the bill in competing in regionals and state. I look for all of them to do great in the next few years," he said. "I expect them all to be in top three in the next few years."