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JFK Middle School students win national writing awards

  • JFK Middle School students Luke Haas of Florence and Mairead Blatner of Northampton, both 14,with their English teacher Holly Graham. Haas and Blatner won Gold Keys in state Scholastic Writing Awards.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    JFK Middle School students Luke Haas of Florence and Mairead Blatner of Northampton, both 14,with their English teacher Holly Graham. Haas and Blatner won Gold Keys in state Scholastic Writing Awards.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • JFK  Middle School students Luke Haas of Florence and Mairead Blatner of Northampton, both 14  won Gold Key awards in a state compeition.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    JFK Middle School students Luke Haas of Florence and Mairead Blatner of Northampton, both 14 won Gold Key awards in a state compeition.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • John F. Kennedy Middle School students Luke Haas of Florence and Mairead Blatner of Northampton have won state Scholastic Writing Awards, shown Thursday. Blatner won Gold Keys in the Personal Essay/Memoir and Science Fiction categories and Haas won a Gold Key in the Humor category.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    John F. Kennedy Middle School students Luke Haas of Florence and Mairead Blatner of Northampton have won state Scholastic Writing Awards, shown Thursday. Blatner won Gold Keys in the Personal Essay/Memoir and Science Fiction categories and Haas won a Gold Key in the Humor category.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • JFK Middle School students Luke Haas of Florence and Mairead Blatner of Northampton, both 14,with their English teacher Holly Graham. Haas and Blatner won Gold Keys in state Scholastic Writing Awards.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • JFK  Middle School students Luke Haas of Florence and Mairead Blatner of Northampton, both 14  won Gold Key awards in a state compeition.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • John F. Kennedy Middle School students Luke Haas of Florence and Mairead Blatner of Northampton have won state Scholastic Writing Awards, shown Thursday. Blatner won Gold Keys in the Personal Essay/Memoir and Science Fiction categories and Haas won a Gold Key in the Humor category.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

Asked about a short story for which she recently won a national Scholastic writing award, Mairead Blatner, an eighth-grader at JFK Middle School, explained that it begins “in medias res, when you start the story in the middle of the plot.”

Blatner and fellow eighth-grader Luke Haas, both 14, garnered silver medals at this year’s national Scholastic Art and Writing competition — the only two students from Hampshire County chosen for national honors.

The pair, who won Gold Keys at the statewide Boston Globe Scholastics in March, are now headed to an awards ceremony May 31 at Carnegie Hall. They’ll join 1,600 other national medalists, including 97 from other Massachusetts schools.

Billed as the country’s longest-running creative awards program for teenagers, the 90th annual Scholastic Art and Writing competition drew more than 230,000 submissions, according to the nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, which runs the program.

The ceremony that Haas, Blatner and their writing coach, JFK English teacher Holly Graham, will attend in New York, will be broadcast live on the Web for the first time in the program’s history. (Visit wwww.artandwriting.org/carnegiewebcast2013 for details). Sarah Jessica Parker is scheduled to host.

“The invitation says we have to look nice,” said Graham, during a recent interview at JFK.

“I feel like there should be ties involved,” said Haas, who lives in Florence. “Should we carpool or something to save energy?”

(Can you tell he won in the humor writing category?).

Graham, who teaches seventh grade at JFK, began recruiting students to participate in the Scholastic Awards last year, her first at the middle school.

“I asked ‘who would like to stay after school and write’?” she said.

Blatner was among those who signed up and she went on to win a Gold Key in the 2012 statewide Scholastic writing competition in Boston.

This year, four JFK eighth graders received honorable mentions at the state Scholastics: Lucy Norton for a short story; Vivian Myron and Emma Dennis-Knieriam for poetry; and Ethan Gorman for a pencil sketch of birch trees. For other Hampshire County statewide Scholastic winners, see accompanying list.

After earning gold in Boston, Blatner and Haas were selected for national Scholastic honors.

Asked how it feels to join the ranks of past medalists such as Andy Warhol, Richard Avedon and Lena Dunham, Blatner flashes a tiny smile.

“It’s encouraging to have that affirmation instead of just having your mom telling you it’s a good story,” she said.

Blatner wrote her award-winning science fiction/fantasy story, “Pro Bono,” about a mysterious lawyer’s adventure, on her iPod. It starts in medias res and moves back and forth in time. There’s a character with huge wings who may or may not be an angel.

“I wanted to leave that open,” said Blatner, who’s a fan of fantasy writing and “realistic fiction” — made-up stories with strong realistic elements.

Before joining Graham’s writing group, Haas said he hadn’t done much writing outside of class assignments, though he enjoys expressing himself through words.

“It was fun,” he said, of the months he spent shaping his winning satire, “Stock of the Season,” about a failed store owner’s journey.

“When I got bored, I stopped because my juices weren’t flowing.”

What draws him to a task that many would go to almost any lengths to avoid?

“Writing is free range. It’s not right or wrong,” Haas said. “In other subjects, like math, for example, you can’t do that.”

He naturally gravitates towards humor writing but he doesn’t consider himself tied to any particular genre.

“My dad’s friend, when he read my essay, said, ‘You must read a lot of

Kurt Vonnegut,” Haas said. “And I said, ‘Who?’ Maybe one of these days, I’ll pick that up.”

Following the strict rules of the competition, Graham said she provided minimal editing help to the students she recruited for the contest. “I set up my classroom and filled out the forms and they took it from there,” she said.

Blatner and Haas found out they’d won national awards one day last month, when they were pulled out of math class and told to report to the front office.

When they got there, Graham handed them a piece of paper and had them read it aloud. It said a panel of respected artists, authors, teachers and other experts had awarded them silver Scholastic medals.

As part of the awards celebration in New York, Graham will attend a special breakfast for teachers.

“Isn’t that cool?” said Graham, who plans on coaching next year’s Scholastic hopefuls at JFK.

Writing isn’t the only arena where this year’s pair of medal winners excel. Haas just successfully auditioned for The Northamptones, Northampton High School’s renowned a cappella group. Blatner plays soccer, runs track and rides horses.

When they talk about writing, it’s not hard to imagine them in a New York editor’s office or on the back of a book jacket.

When asked for advice for fellow teen wordsmiths, for instance, Haas recommended respecting their own process.

“I probably spaced out for three-quarters of the time I was working on it,” he said, of his winning story. “Sometimes when you space out, you produce good stuff.”

Blatner firmly believes that “everyone has the ability to be a writer.

“My advice for people who are interested in writing would be, just go for it,” she added. “If you’re worried about rejection you won’t do it. But a lot of really good writers have been rejected.”

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NORTHAMPTON — Below are excerpts from stories by two JFK Middle School eighth graders who won silver in this year’s national Scholastic writing awards. Mairead Blatner, 14, of Northampton, won in the science fiction category for her short story “Pro Bono” about a mysterious attorney. Her essay “Perfect” won in a special themed category on aging, illness and death at … 0

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