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Outside the lines: Journal project strikes a chord at James Wood

students talk about their journals
From left, Kelsey Van Sickler, Lacey Williamson, Caitlin Lee, Vicki Pitcock and Stephanie Woshner talk about their visual journals. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

A group meets and examines journals
A group meets and examines some of their journals. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

visual journals
Pages of students' visual journals include cutouts of magazine ads and various other items. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

Pages of students' visual journals
Pages of students' visual journals include cutouts of magazine ads and various other items. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- A group of seniors gathers in an art room at James Wood High School on a recent afternoon to look back on journals they constructed during the last year. They flip through the pages, marveling at ideas they harnessed in moments of brilliance and laughing at the memories shared with friends.

The journals are filled to bursting with words written or pasted in, drawings, paintings, photos, magazine cutouts, knickknacks and even money. But what is most surprising about the artwork is that it was not inspired by art class. They learned about the journals in AP English.

"This is No. 1," Ashleigh Hodgson, 18, says, referring to a journal she holds. "But I'm on, technically, my third one."

She had never really kept a traditional journal or diary in the past, she says.

"Doing this, it's so much more fun because I can put all sorts of random things in," she says, opening a greeting card she had pasted in, which begins to sing. The others laugh, and she tells them her journal also includes some perfume she sprayed on it.

"You can smell it and hear it," she says of the book.

"I can't wait until I'm 40 years old, and I can look back on my journal."

Stephanie Woshner, an art teacher at James Wood High School, had been using visual journals in her classes for a couple of years before she proposed the idea to 11th-grade AP English teacher Vicki Pitcock, who incorporated them into her classes last year.

Every other Friday is journal day in English class, Woshner says. "The kids are so excited for that one day, they're so happy."

Word about the visual journals quickly spread throughout the school. Last year, Pitcock ordered 60 artist sketchbooks at wholesale price to resell to her students. This year she ordered 200.

"It sort of exploded, especially this year," Woshner says, adding that she suspects a workshop in March followed by word-of-mouth, propagated the teens' interest in journaling.

On that spring Saturday, Loudoun County art teacher Eric Scott gave a workshop at James Wood with Dave Modler, of North Carolina. The two run the Journal Fodder Junkies Workshop around the region, having been inspired by visual journal workshops Modler found through the National Art Education Association.

"He's the one who got me into doing visual journals," Scott says.

Scott and Modler's workshops, which can be anything from an hour-long session to a week-long seminar, teach participants how to begin a visual journal and help them realize how much they can do.

"Five minutes here, 10 minutes there, hopefully work on it everyday," says Scott, who fills his own journals with ideas for lessons, paintings, store receipts and movie tickets. "It's a personal and a professional tool."

"As a person, as a human being, they can use it in their life," he says.

"I wrote my college essay about my journal," says Harrison Davis, 17. Though he was inspired to carry the journaling process out of his English class at James Wood High and into his everyday life, he admits that before last fall he had never kept a journal. He always thought it was boring.

"It's a different way to communicate, that is outside the lines," he says of the visual journal. Never thinking himself an artist, he took to his journal because of its emphasis on writing.

"That's how I reflect, that's how I pursue things. ... Your thoughts become tangible, I guess."

Courtney Beach, 17, had similar intentions with her visual journal, having kept journals all her life.

"Ms. Pitcock encouraged me to express myself in more artistic ways and to express myself using more than words," she says.

In her classes, Pitcock encourages as much improvisation as is possible.

"I'm looking for two hours' progress in their journals," Pitcock says.

The rest is up to them.

"They really enjoy it because it gives them a chance to express themselves without specific rules," Woshner says.

The students have even continued the process in their free time -- in school, out of school, on weekends, holidays and even at sleepovers.

"We had, like, journal parties," says 17-year-old Lacey Williamson.

She and three friends -- Davis, Kelsey Van Sickler and Caitlin Lee -- began a small journal in June to chronicle their summer vacation, passing the journal from one to another, even meeting to work on it together. They included Pitcock in the fun, "because she's our favorite, she helped us a lot," says Van Sickler, 17.

After mailing the book to Lee, Pitcock soon asked for it back so she could show the journal around at the workshops she attends and gives locally. The journal, still unfinished, remains a story of their summer together.

"It was interesting to see what we did and where we went," Van Sickler says.

"We put a lot of inside jokes in it," says Lee, 17.

Woshner has passed her affinity for journaling to her children, 5-year-old Nathaniel and 21⁄2-year-old Emma.

"They now keep their own journals," she says. Mostly they draw in theirs, but Nathaniel, now in kindergarten, practices his letters and numbers in his, Woshner says.

"It's therapeutic -- it is for me," she says.

Meeting to flip through the pages inspired by their junior year has an interesting effect on the teens.

"It's funny to look back on," Van Sickler says.

"You always wrote notes about us, and I loved that," Beach tells Pitcock, who had just been marveling that the school's football coach was recently inspired to begin his own journal. She suggests to her former students that they and others who are interested start meeting regularly after school to work on their journals.

"Yes!" Davis shouts.

"Journal parties!" Williamson exclaims.

They begin planning the possibilities of branching out from the Arby's where some of them met during the summer while journaling.

"Everyone should do one," Hodgson says.

"Because everyone has a story to tell," Pitcock adds without missing a beat.


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