43rd English Festival Calls for Participants

YSU President Jim Tressel and high school participants in the 2018 English Festival lift their hands to show their Y-pride. Volunteers can help students show off their pride virtually this year in April. Photo courtesy of YSU English Festival

By C. Aileen Blaine

Youngstown State University’s English Festival enters its 43rd year and its second year hosted online. With sessions occurring both synchronously and asynchronously comes the need for student volunteers in a variety of roles. 

Some of the volunteer positions include Zoom meeting co-hosts to start and end meetings, monitor the chat and manage participants. Other positions include acting as moderators for the Not-So-Trivial Pursuit sessions or other virtual meeting rooms, such as Insight Discussions. 

Volunteers interested in leading sessions can pre-record 5-20 minute videos for students to watch and interact with via Facebook and YouTube. Sessions leaders should read at least one of the festival books and can discuss aspects of the theme, history or content of the book itself. 

Volunteers will also be welcome to attend the recorded sessions with guest lecturer Ruta Sepetys, author of “Between Shades of Gray” and “Salt to the Sea.”

The festival will still occur over three days. High school grades 10-12 will participate on April 21 and middle school grades 7-9 April 22 and 23. 

Melanie Loew, festival coordinator, said only about 50% of the typically participating schools registered for this year. This represents a total of nearly 100 schools from Ohio and Pennsylvania, compared to the usual 200 or so.

Terry Benton, member of the festival committee, sent an email to the English and world languages department expressing appreciation for the English Festival volunteers of years past.

“A major highlight of the year is the annual YSU English Festival, when hundreds of high school and middle school students join us for a three-day celebration of reading and writing,” Benton said in the email. “The English Festival has been so successful because of the many volunteers who facilitate sessions and help in other ways.” 

Angela Messenger, festival co-chair, said the festival committee hopes session-leading volunteers will be creative. 

“What we’re looking for is that if people are inventive and can think of ways [to encourage students] to pause the video and do some writing or go to a particular drawing app and create something that’s inspired by part of the book,” Messenger said.

The festival’s advisory board considered many things when planning events and activities. This included the input from teachers of participating schools.

“We surveyed [the teachers] in advance of the festival,” Messenger said. “We took all of their considerations in mind when we were trying to develop something that could offer an asynchronous or synchronized platform.”

Last year’s festival was postponed by a month so the planning committee could transition such a large, in-person event to a completely virtual setting. It was difficult, and most sessions occurred asynchronously. But this year, students and volunteers will be able to interact with each other in real time.

“Many of our regular, small group size sessions will allow students to actually talk to one another again, and to talk to the presenter. And that’s what we’re excited to bring back this year,” Messenger said. 

For more information, visit the YSU English Festival website, or contact Angela Messenger at [email protected]