Byline: Peter Romba
"How are your writing skills?"
The red ink glows on the small photocopied news clipping. A few Marmion Academy cadets stop to read it: a news report says that high school students are weak with words.
Most Marmion students seemed to exhibit a minimal reaction to the news. The rigors of the Marmion English program have given them much confidence in their abilities as writers.
Richard Holinger, the instructor of the English III course, is fervent in his beliefs about the importance of writing.
"We are making an effort to write across the curriculum," he said. "In my classes I try to teach how this process works. We make an effort to include speech with the creative writing (as well)."
The members of the English Department agree that fiction and nonfiction writing skills are different, and students might display skill in one but not the other. Throughout the four years of the English curriculum, the teachers strive to exercise both of these facets.
"I recall when I was studying for my Ph.D. that I spent roughly a year or two with analytical writing," Holinger said. "It took me some time afterward before I was able to write fiction well again."
Holinger's class is a springboard for students to expand on their creative writing skills, with assignments such as narrative dialogues, descriptions of houses or people and short stories. The use of fiction skills with nonfiction descriptions allows students to create more powerful imagery and thus better fiction stories.
"The fun of writing fiction is discovering as you go along," he said.
The Honors English III class is also participating in a contemporary literature study in which they can read modern fiction as a class and see writing strategies in action. The department emphasizes to students that it is beneficial to know how professional authors work. From these examples, the students can let their imaginations soar.
Holinger's love for English has also driven him to host bimonthly writing workshops classes for adults at the St. Charles and Batavia public libraries. His own poetry has also been published, in books as well as newspapers.
The importance of nonfiction writing also pays off for students in the long run.
Alexander George, head of the English Department at Marmion and instructor of English IV, is amused that "many Marmion alumni enter college surprised at the inability of fellow college students to write good papers."
George's approach to English places emphasis on how students interpret information.
"I want to teach them how to read, period," he said. "If they savor every word and spend time on (the work) they will become more active readers. …