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CSU English professors host local high schoolers

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

High school students from Clayton and Henry counties sat in on Clayton State University English classes on Wednesday, hearing discussions on varying literary topics, as part of Clayton State's "English Day" event sponsored by the university's Department of English.

Works discussed during the classes included George Bernard Shaw's play, "Mrs. Warren's Profession," and Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy."

Some of the 60 high school students who participated in the event described the experience as an eye-opening glimpse into how different college English courses are from their high school classes.

"We're more basic in high school, whereas it's more open in here," said Lovejoy High School junior, Amanda Bryant, 17. "The students are interested in participating in class, more than what they are wearing, and where the parties are going to be held at this weekend."

This is the first time Clayton State has held an "English Day" event, according to Department of English Chairperson Barbara Goodman. All of the high schools in Clayton, Henry and Fayette counties were invited to participate, she said. She added that the students who came were from Forest Park, Lovejoy and Ola high schools.

"We're [high schools and colleges] all working towards the same thing, which is the education of students," Goodman said. "Part of it [the reason for 'English Day'] is to strengthen the ties between the high schools and the university, but the other part is to let the high school students see what you need to do in college to be successful, because it is different from high school."

Ola High School junior, Amy Albers, 17, said she liked being able to participate in "English Day," because she will be attending Clayton State during the 2010-2011 school year as a dual-enrollment student. She said it was an opportunity to see what she can expect to face next year.

"I like the environment, because you get to have free will here," she said. "It's also a very nice looking campus."

Lovejoy junior, Nashay Jenkins, 17, said she learned that college students have to be more responsible for their studies, than they are in high school. "In high school, the teacher will kinda stay on you to do all of your work, but here, the teachers depend on you to be responsible enough to do the work on your own," she said.

Clayton State Provost and Vice-President of Academic Affairs Michael Crafton, who is also an English professor at the school, encouraged the high school pupils to consider majoring in English as he greeted them at the beginning of the event. "We want you all to come to Clayton State, and study English because it is the best major in the world," Crafton said.

He then told the youths that any student who sat in on his world literature class would hear a discussion on "the faces of Satan, caked in a block of ice, while eating sinners, in the depths of Hell," as part of his lecture on Dante's "Divine Comedy."

One student who sat in on that lecture was Ola junior, Bria Johnson, 16, who said she had already read parts of the "Divine Comedy," so she already understood the topic. She said the format of the class was similar to Advanced Placement classes she has taken at Ola, but the college class was still a bit deeper than any high school class she had ever taken.

In addition to talking about Satan's faces, Crafton also discussed prejudices against Muslims, and comparisons between ancient Rome and Christian Rome that Dante inserted in his epic.

"Here, you spend more time getting into the themes of the book," Johnson said. "It's different from high school because everybody is free to express their own interpretations of the book."

There was also a writing competition that Clayton State's Department of English held in conjunction with "English Day." High school students had the opportunity to spend the first class period writing either an expository essay on where they would like to go in the world, or a creative writing piece where they got to come up with a short story.

Each student got to pick what he, or she, wrote. Clayton State English Professor Ruth Caillouet said students majoring in English at the university served as the judges.

Goodman said Ola juniors, Ben Appel and Ryan Calhoun, tied for first place in the expository writing category. She also said Ola junior, Alyssia Martin, won first place in the creative writing category, while fellow Ola junior, Naomi Thompson, receive an honorable mention.

There was also a Poetry Slam competition. Forest Park junior, Stefan Clark, won that competition, according to Goodman.