Each day, each student at Okatie Elementary School writes for an hour. Beth Fries' second-grade students would write for two if they could, she said.
And the hour-long exercise is only one way the school has increased its emphasis on writing in the past three years.
Students are now writing in every class. When they solve math problems, they write to explain their methods. In music class, they write lyrics; in drama, they write plays, literacy coach Lauren Phillips said.
Okatie Elementary is one of five schools to earn the state's Exemplary Writing Award, which is based on a five-month evaluation that includes written applications and site visits by S.C. Department of Education officials.The other four winners are Baron DeKalb Elementary in Kershaw County, Cheraw Primary in Chesterfield County, and Varennes Academy and Calhoun Academy of the Arts in Anderson District 5.
Okatie Elementary has applied for the award in the past, and the feedback helped fine-tune its programs, Phillips said.
For example, a program to encourage parents to brainstorm and write with their children was changed to include meetings with teachers to discuss the program and the writing process.Students also exchange letters with teachers, school administrators and each other.
"It's not someone saying 'You have to write,' " Phillips said. "We just encourage them, and we write them back."
Assistant principal Marva Neal said the emphasis on writing has improved student test scores on state assessments. Okatie Elementary's state report-card ranking has improved from "average" in 2008 to "excellent" in 2010 and 2011.
And the students? Well, they just think all the writing is fun.
Second-grader August Rios said he uses writingto express his feelings.
Although it's difficult to have perfect handwriting, second-grader Kade Carpenter said writing makes him happy and inspires him to write more.
Third-grader Vincent Chiem said he likes to writeto share his experiences, like the time his family traveled to Atlanta. And third-grader Isabella Chanes Baison said she enjoys thinking of new ideas and looking back at her past stories.
"I like experiencing the new ideas that come up to my brain," she said. "And when I find something I wrote when I was younger or a favorite story, I just read it all over again."