Schoo students secure national recognition for literary magazine

Schoo Middle School students have used their writing talents to create literature as refreshing as a cool glass of lemonade.
Students earned national recognition for the 2023 edition of the “Philography” literary magazine. The school publication, entitled “When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade,” features 81 pages of poetry, non-fiction and fiction writing and two artwork pieces.
The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) honored Schoo students this winter through the Recognizing Excellence in Art and Literary Magazines (REALM) contest. They earned a Distinguished Award for their work. Student editors Maarib, Zoryana, Abiyo, Ren, Amalia, Madi, Maya, Shelby and Marianna oversaw the project as eighth graders.

Abiyo said all of the student editors were proud of what the team accomplished at Schoo. Abiyo is a freshman at Northwest High School this year and is enjoying success in both academics and activities.
“Working on the literary magazine at Schoo was a lot of fun,” Abiyo said. “I learned a lot about how to edit others’ work and help organize a literary magazine, which is something I never did until last school year.”
Eighth-grade English teacher Amanda Petersen said she was thrilled when REALM judges unveiled the national awards. Petersen has worked at Schoo for seven years and submitted the Philography edition to the contest. She and former Schoo teacher Mackenzie Santos were co-advisors of the magazine, but the student team edited and arranged all of the content.
“I was really pleased because we had never used student editors before, so to see students fully earn some recognition is really exciting,” Petersen said. “It was great to see that even though teachers were a little less hands-on, it was still able to do pretty well.”

Philography began in 2022 when Lincoln Public Schools included more creative writing in the middle school English curriculum. Former Schoo teacher Maggie Deschaine Wiehn, who now leads Northwest’s English department, created a literary magazine unit for students. She and Petersen did all of the editing for the inaugural magazine, which earned an Excellent Award in that year’s REALM contest.
Petersen and Santos began the 2023 magazine journey by teaching their classes how to identify and create poetry, non-fiction and fiction plots. Students made suggestions for the overall magazine theme before voting for the “When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade” plan. They spent several class periods coming up with ideas for their individual projects before completing their submissions.
“My really big push is that I want every student to have a voice and express themselves, so we publish pretty much everything the students submit,” Petersen said. “Even if there are students who are like, ‘I don’t really want to submit,’ we ask them to do so, so they can get the feeling of what it’s like to see your work in a magazine. They can feel like it has purpose beyond just getting a grade.”

The 2023 Philography pieces tackled a wide variety of subjects. Some explored upbeat topics such as summer plans and creating artwork, but others focused on serious issues such as broken relationships, anxiety, acceptance and loneliness. Many students also incorporated the lemons-to-lemonade theme in their submissions.
“They’re stuck in a really big moment of transition in their life, and that is just heavy,” Petersen said. “The fact that they have exhausted feelings and emotions about it in one way or another is not surprising.”
Petersen and Santos asked Maarib, Zoryana, Abiyo, Ren, Amalia, Madi, Maya, Shelby and Marianna if they would be willing to be student editors. The nine Skyhawks stayed after school for several days reviewing every submission from their classmates.
“Our student editors did a fantastic job,” Petersen said. “There were quite a few of them and they all had to work together, they’re all from different classes and they’re not necessarily friends, so they did a really nice job coming together and being collaborative. Watching them piece it together and decide which pieces go where was very impressive.”
Abiyo said being a member of the student editor team was a rewarding experience.
“I learned a lot about the people who sent pieces to be in the magazine,” Abiyo said. “When I worked with the other student editors I wasn’t close with them at first, but with more meetings I started to learn more about people I thought I didn’t have anything in common with. It was cool to work together on the magazine.”

REALM judges used a scoring rubric to evaluate magazines from across the United States. They reviewed submissions from middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities.

North Star High School captured a Superior Award in the REALM contest. Student editors Aubrie and Gabby and faculty editor Katherine Hill guided the 2023 “Istoria” publication. Omaha Marian High School was the only other Nebraska award recipient.
Schoo students will learn the theme for the 2024 magazine at the start of the fourth quarter. They will vote on options for the cover-page illustration before submitting their pieces. Petersen said she is confident they will match the refreshing quality of the lemons-to-lemonade content.
“We’ll see what our students have this year when we start writing,” Petersen said. “I’m sure it will be something good.”

Click here to read more of the students' award-winning literary works. 
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Published: March 19, 2024, Updated: March 20, 2024

Amanda Petersen holds a copy of the 2022-23 edition of the Philography literary magazine in front of her classroom at Schoo Middle School. Schoo students earned national recognition for their work on the magazine. Eighth graders submitted pieces for the magazine and a team of student editors arranged them in the 94-page publication.