RIVERVIEW — Somewhere between A and Z, Bernadeth D'Souza's advanced language arts students will remind you of things they think make Tampa special.
The Rodgers Middle School teacher recently asked her students to choose a letter of the alphabet and write something historical or informative about Tampa beginning with the selected letter of the alphabet. She also asked that it be written in rhyme.
The result was a class submission for a new writing competition. The Florida Blue Young Authors Contest, sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida and the Books by Kids Foundation, allows middle school students in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties to compete for a chance to have their work published.
Tampa Bay from A to Z will combine the written words of students with the artwork of young patients from St. Joseph's Children's Hospital and All Children's Hospital. The book will be sold throughout Tampa Bay, and its net proceeds will benefit the two children's hospitals and school of the winning author(s).
Rodgers Middle School's collaborative entry begins with the rhyme of 12-year-old Ariana Miller:
A is for Adventure Islands
A place worth touring
Come visit this great land
You won't say it's boring.
Ariana, who aspires to become a novelist, enjoys writing because she says it comes easy to her.
"You can give me a topic, and I could write for days on it," Ariana said.
Another student, 12-year-old Misael Regalado, took about a week to perfect his submission for the letter "C." He decided to highlight his Cuban heritage by remembering a Tampa industry that once dominated the area. After reading it out loud, his writing effort paid off when he won the approval of his teachers and classmates.
Cigars, cigars it is here they were made
They were bountiful as they came
People smoked them in cars and trains
But now they just faded away.
Autumn Thompson , 11, was inspired to write about downtown Tampa. She says she always has fun exploring its many places of interest with her mother. The downtown courthouse particularly fascinates her because she wants to be an attorney.
D is for Downtown
Where buildings soar high
It is where excitement is found
Right below the blue sky.
D'Souza, a veteran teacher of 32 years, knows that competition can often bring out the best in her students. She encourages them to compete in various writing competitions to move them out of the doldrums of ordinary assignments. She says writing for a contest gives them a different motivation because it's more exciting to think of actually winning and being published.
Former student Chase Cicale, now a high school student, should know. As a sixth-grader he won second place and a $500 scholarship in a statewide contest by writing an alternative ending to the book Hoot by Carl Hiaasen. He also received a signed copy of the book from the author and a letter from the governor.
D'Souza says these days Chase still comes to visit his former teacher. When she hears him encouraging her sixth-grade students, she remembers when he wasn't so confident about entering the writing contest he would later place in.
"He stood up and said, 'You're crazy if you think we can win something like this,' " D'Souza said.
After Chase finally bought into the idea, he produced a 1,000-word ending that won him second place out of more than 1,000 entries. It later fueled a desire to continue writing.
D'Souza continues to hope for more winners among her students, recognizing another important motivation.
"Once they know someone likes their writing, it will inspire them to do more," D'Souza said.
Belinda Kramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.