Students, teachers dish up literary treat: 'Choffin Soup'

The book showcases the literary and artistic talents of city students.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Choffin Career and Technical Center isn't just about kids learning skills in their field to get them the job they want. The center's Literary Focus Team has undertaken a new project that showcases the diversity of talent and creativity of students and staff in the form of a book of poetry, stories, artwork and photos.
"Choffin Soup" has just been published, and the school is proud of its success.
The purpose of the Literary Focus Team is to promote all types of literacy. "We want writing to be across the curriculum, not just in English class," said team member Mike Hinge, who is on the English department staff. "Many non-English teachers aren't comfortable assigning writing. This project encouraged teachers to write also. We wanted the teachers to have empathy for what the students go through in their writing process."
And the reward was having the book finally published. "Writing without ever getting published is like practicing football, but never getting to play the game," Hinge added.
School celebration
Students and staff celebrated the book's publication with a school assembly Thursday. Because of the success and enthusiasm for this project, the team plans to make it a yearly goal. "Those that didn't participate this year, including teachers, now wish they had," Hinge said. "We want to continue to aim for higher levels of excellence. The kids here are from diverse backgrounds. Many students wrote about the technical program they are enrolled in. Others are more academically geared."
While many of the poems are light or humorous, a great many more are a deep expression of the struggles and pain so many young people are experiencing today.
Pierson Haywood, a senior from The Rayen School, studying commercial art at Choffin, wrote a poem called "I'm A Make It." "It means I can make it on my own," he said. "My friends chose drugs, and my dad chose the street over being with me, in and out of jail, but I chose to make it."
In another poem, he tells about ending a relationship with a girl he loved because he kept lying to her and hurting her, but finally told her the truth.
Serious side
In fact, one whole section of the book is called "Sorrow's Spoon." Student Kimberly Taylor wrote about her mother giving her up, and loving her new mother in "I Am Her Child."
Justin McCree of Woodrow Wilson High School wrote a story about his father being killed. Brittney Daniels of Rayen told of her mother dying suddenly of sickle-cell anemia at the Cleveland Clinic before she had a chance to say goodbye. And Danielle JaVawn Anderson wrote a poem about a 15-year-old finding out she is pregnant.
In the section "A Cup of Thanks," Cindy Colbert expresses love to her dad in a poem called "One More Time," while Shauna Rockwell of Chaney High School says thank you in a poem called "Mom." In the section "Our Spicy Spirits," LaReina Dothard triumphs in "Born Again: Reinvented."
But not all of the book is heartfelt. There's some silliness, too, like excerpts from the "Choffin Enquirer." One is a story about honors English teacher Angela Dooley (also on the Literacy Team), who learned to spell using Alpha-Bits cereal. There also is a section where students and staff wrote about projects they were doing in class.
Art and design
In addition to the writing is some great art and photography. Dennis Nieves designed the cover of the book. It is a thick "C" with a spoon across it, in dark blue with a gray background, the school colors. "I knew the book would be called 'Choffin Soup,' and you eat soup with a spoon," he said.
A poster designed by Derrick Slocum for a fall school assembly that showcased gifts and talents of the students is included in the book. "It was to get peoples' attention about the assembly," he said. "The poster had life-sized characters." An anti-abortion public service announcement that Slocum created in graphic arts class also appears in the book.
Both Nieves and Slocum are studying commercial art at Choffin, and both are Rayen seniors. Nieves said he wants to attend Youngstown State University and major in graphic design. Slocum has had work displayed at the McDonough Museum of Art.
In order to inspire the students to create illustrations or photos, they were given only one line of a poem. The end result is a book that is visually and emotionally satisfying, a tribute to the creativity and talent by Choffin's students.
If you wish to obtain a copy of the book, contact Angela Dooley at Choffin, 200 Wood St., Youngstown, or call (330) 744-8751, or (330) 792-5700. A copy is also available at the main branch of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, 305 Wick Ave.

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