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Spooky stories inspire students

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Pictured, front row, left to right, are student authors Analese Millican, Anastasia Tegeda and Jadie Salazar; and back row, Diego Lucero, Anthony Sanchez and Evelyn Garcia, who smile as they display copies of their “Spooky Sagas” in the Mesa Middle School library. (Alison Penn Photo)

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As Halloween arrives, published authors and students reflected on writing their “Spooky Sagas” from last year.

Mazes on farms, haunted houses, zombies and other frightful things set the scene for the then-fifth grade students’ stories for The Young Writers U.S.A. Contest. The challenge was for students to write a scary story in 150 words or less.

After hearing about the contest last year, Julie King, fifth grade teacher, decided to make the stories for the contest a class assignment for her class at Pecos Elementary School. Eight of her 20 students’ stories were selected to be compiled and printed as “Spooky Sagas” along with stories from over 150 students across the country.

Diego Lucero, 12; Anthony Sanchez, 12; Evelyn Garcia, 11; Analese Millican, 12; Anastasia Tegeda, 11; and Jadie Salazar, 11 — six of the eight student authors — along with King and Pecos Principal Dr. Barbara Ryan, met in the library at Mesa Middle School, which they now attend, to share their experiences.

Martin Gamez and Gabriella Silva were other students that won the contest, but were not present for the interview.

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“It was a variety of ability levels in this group, but that’s what they got to see,” Ryan said. “If you put some time and effort into something, it can grow into something bigger than what you ever thought it could be.”

The students were notified of their accomplishments near the end of December last year, Ryan said. King and Ryan said after the contest they noticed a difference in these students, who were encouraged in their abilities as writers, and were enjoying reading and writing and being creative.

The students autographed their books and presented them to Superintendent Dr. Ann Lynn McIlroy and the school board members.

When they found out that they were selected for the book, Tegeda said she felt “astonished.”

“Oh, I was so proud,” King said of her students. “It’s one thing to do writing in class that’s just for me, but this way they got to see that they can be published, and that there’s a process and we went through the whole thing. So yeah, I was really proud of them all for trying.”

Ideas for their stories came from pop culture, from the Stranger Things series to Goosebumps novels, the students said. Lucero, Sanchez, Garcia and Salazar made the decision to add humor to their stories to make them more kid-friendly.

No violence, weapons or gore were the parameters set for the stories by King.

“Well, it made them think — rather than just the easy things — rather than shooting, stabbing and no weapons or anything like that,” King said. “They actually had to think about what is scary. So we had discussions on that about what made things scary.”

One story came from a real experience. Millican said her story was based on a hall closet she wasn’t allowed to get into at her grandmother’s house. In this story, the main character goes into the closet only to find their “Gramoe,” or grandma, waiting to catch them in the act.

“I celebrate Halloween,” Millican said. “It’s my favorite holiday — well, because it’s filled with darkness, there’s monsters, there’s horror movies, there’s candy.”

Since he doesn’t celebrate Halloween, Lucero found his inspiration from “jump scares” in horror films for his story.

Lucero said King helped him the most by finding “spelling mistakes” and giving suggestions to improve his writing. Millican said she received “inspiration” for her story from “many” conversations with King.

“Even a little kid can be a writer,” Lucero said when asked what he learned from the experience. 

Special projects reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.