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Peterborough

ConVal students get lesson in crime

MacDowell Colony authors visit summer classes to help kids learn to write

  • Former MacDowell Colony residents, Devika Rege and Gregory Sales, opened themselves up to a unique opportunity at ConVal.  They offered feedback to Angela Hartmann's crime writing class this summer.

    Former MacDowell Colony residents, Devika Rege and Gregory Sales, opened themselves up to a unique opportunity at ConVal. They offered feedback to Angela Hartmann's crime writing class this summer. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Former MacDowell Colony residents, Devika Rege and Gregory Sales, opened themselves up to a unique opportunity at ConVal.  They offered feedback to Angela Hartmann's crime writing class this summer.

    Former MacDowell Colony residents, Devika Rege and Gregory Sales, opened themselves up to a unique opportunity at ConVal. They offered feedback to Angela Hartmann's crime writing class this summer. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Former MacDowell Colony residents, writer Devika Rege and visual artist Gregory Sale, volunteered themselves to a class at ConVal this summer.  Rege provided personal feedback to the students of Angela Hartmann's crime writing class. Sale spoke to them about his work with prison inmates.

    Former MacDowell Colony residents, writer Devika Rege and visual artist Gregory Sale, volunteered themselves to a class at ConVal this summer. Rege provided personal feedback to the students of Angela Hartmann's crime writing class. Sale spoke to them about his work with prison inmates. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Former MacDowell Colony residents, Devika Rege and Gregory Sales, opened themselves up to a unique opportunity at ConVal.  They offered feedback to Angela Hartmann's crime writing class this summer.
  • Former MacDowell Colony residents, Devika Rege and Gregory Sales, opened themselves up to a unique opportunity at ConVal.  They offered feedback to Angela Hartmann's crime writing class this summer.
  • Former MacDowell Colony residents, writer Devika Rege and visual artist Gregory Sale, volunteered themselves to a class at ConVal this summer.  Rege provided personal feedback to the students of Angela Hartmann's crime writing class. Sale spoke to them about his work with prison inmates.

How many high school classes have the opportunity to continually be mentored and receive feedback from world-renowned writers and artists? Twelve students at ConVal High School did.

The freshmen to seniors in Angela Hartmann’s English class this summer had MacDowell residents Devika Rege and Gregory Sale join their class.

The focus of the class, which ran through the month of July, was writing crime fiction.

Rege, a writer from Mumbai, India, tutored the students on improving their writing. Sale, a multidisciplinary artist who creates art with prison inmates, spoke to the class about looking at incarceration and inmates from various perspectives.

In an interview after the class’s conclusion, Hartmann said, “Just imagine you’re sitting in high school, sitting with a writer, talking about your writing. That’s incredible.”

Ann Hayashi, assistant to the resident director of the MacDowell Colony, organized the collaboration. Hayashi said that when she joined the MacDowell Colony about two years ago, one of the responsibilities she took on was the MacDowell Colony’s outreach program. In particular, she reaches out to schools in the region. Students have visited artists at the MacDowell Colony or have met artists as renowned as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sheri Fink.

Hayashi said last week she likes students realizing they can actually pursue a career in writing.

Hayashi said that when she was a teenager she imagined writers to be “all dead white men.”

“For me, I like to be able to introduce artists for students to know they come from all over the world, in all shapes, sizes and genders.”

The petite, Indian-born Rege met with Hartmann’s class early on, in the first two weeks. Hartmann’s goal for the class was for her students to learn how to better write crime and mystery stories, by developing the personalities of the characters they created. Hartmann had her students draft, write, and rewrite their stories over and over again.

Hartmann said Rege had an “author’s corner.” There, Rege would speak with a student about their work and look through their drafts and at their characters. Hartmann said that Rege valued every student. Each student, no matter what their skill levels or abilities were, repeatedly met with Rege and received feedback,.

Sydney Hutton, a senior from Bennington, said Rege helped her reconsider how important points-of-view are to a story. Rege challenged Hutton to switch the narration from a speaker’s perspective to a character’s to make how it reads more “mysterious.” Hutton really enjoyed working with real authors, although she still plans to eventually become a preschool teacher.

Hayashi said Sale joined the class after Rege recommended he speak to the students about his experiences interacting prison inmates. The students were, after all, writing about crime.

In an interview on Aug. 15, Sale said he discussed with the class how “so often in everyday culture, we think the story is over when they get arrested. In fact, it’s the beginning.”

Hutton remembers Sale describing to the class a project he set up. Inmates painted over a picture of prison bars to represent their freedom. This act symbolized the inmates no longer looking out at bars from their cells.

Hartmann said she was amazed how curious her students were.

Sale showed the class a video of imprisoned girls performing a play for their mothers. At the end of the play, the girls stepped off stage and sang to their mothers, “Mama, I’m sorry for what I have done. I was arrested and ended up here.”

After this presentation, Hartmann said she thought her students were developing more sympathetic characters.

About his lectures to the students, Sale said sometimes “seeing that other person as somebody they can relate to makes [students] able to bring deeper, richer, more complex nuanced questions.”

Hartmann said, “It’s really hard emotionally and psychologically to think in that space. Sale really asked tough questions of these students.”

Hutton agreed that Sale broadened her outlook.

“We read about real crimes,” she said. “Reading about some of the crimes that we don’t hear about around here.”

Hayashi, whose children attend ConVal, said broadening students’ outlooks beyond this “rural, homogeneous” area is another one of her goals.

“They may not go to Mexico or to India,” Hayashi said. But, she said, they can speak to them.

Hutton said, “There are definitely a lot of stereotypes.” The class changed that as well, she said.

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