By Hannah Kosloski
Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, Dakota Memorial School students picked up their pens and began writing stories of magnificent creations. Students wrote about dragons, sword fights, puppies, and big cities. They also wrote about their experiences surviving years of trauma, neglect, and abuse.
As a part of their final writing assignment of the 2018-19 school year, every student at Dakota Memorial School, Fargo, had the opportunity to write and illustrate a short story. Each student picked an issue in society they believed should be addressed. Topics included bullying, homelessness, child abuse, racism, addiction, and environmental protection.
Most students chose to write a fable, using the format of a children's short story. Madi Novacek, the English teacher overseeing the project, told the students they could focus on any topic they chose. "Some of the topics were a little intense, but that's OK," Novacek said. "Many of the kids wrote about things they'd actually experienced. Some of them told their stories and changed the endings. Some were very deep and realistic and didn't have happy endings."
One student wrote about his personal struggle with addiction. The story focused on a fictional man who was sick and went to the drug store to get cold medicine. The medicine made him feel better, but it also made him have crazy dreams filled with dragons and knights. The dreams were a magical place to live, so he kept going back for more. The man noticed how easy it was to get more cold medicine. He started drinking it every night, so he could go back and play with the mystical creatures. Over time, as the man spent more time in his dream world, he started to become a dragon. He was no longer an innocent visitor to the dreamland, but a fictional monster in his own dream world. Creating this story helped the teenage writer understand his own journey with addiction and healing.
After writing their stories, students illustrated them. This unique English assignment tied the curriculum to their healing—allowing students to process their own traumatic stories in a creative way.
On the last day of school, Novacek presented each student with a bound and laminated copy of their story.