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Rising College junior Rowana Miller is the 2020 recipient of the Kelly Writers House Kerry Prize. (Photo from Rowana Miller)

As the spread of the coronavirus continues to create uncertainty regarding all aspects of life, a Penn junior has created a virtual summer camp to teach writing to elementary and middle schoolers across the country.  

Rising College junior Rowana Miller, who is the 2020 recipient of the Kelly Writers House Kerry Prize, said her work as a sociology major and creative writing minor helped to inspire the project. Miller hopes to make a positive contribution to younger children's lives in the midst of the pandemic. 

“Ideally, I would like the classes to be a respite from the chaos. Everything sucks right now, and I would like kids to be able to have projects to focus on when there are few sources of certainty in the world,” Miller said.

The week-long camp will be free to all student participants and will be conducted on Zoom. It will run in late July and early August with two separate sessions offered each week. Students will be able to enroll in the different sessions based upon their age and experience level. Miller said the class content will be created by Penn students who she will hire as counselors using the Kerry Prize project budget of $2,000.

The Kerry Prize, named after the first director of KWH, Kerry Sherin Wright, is awarded to one member of KWH each spring for a project proposal that matches Kerry's vision for the House — those that are communal, intellectually open-minded, and intended to benefit the KWH community. The Prize winner receives a $1,000 cash prize as well as a budget for their project, which can range from week-long to single-day events.

“The prize is in the spirit of her directorship, which is about community, and being intellectually open and adventurous, and working on creative projects that face outward,” KWH Program Coordinator Alli Katz said. 

Last January, 2020 College graduate and 2019 Kerry Prize recipient Samatha Friskey hosted playwright Madeleine George to speak on writing about climate change in plays. 

Miller's camp will meet Monday through Thursday for one hour each day. Monday through Wednesday will be reserved for student instruction and Thursdays will be used to share students' weekly creations. 

The workshop-style classes will begin with a brainstorming exercise and end with a polished product that can range from a poetry collection to a short story, Miller said.

“There were three key niches that I wanted to target. Obviously, the kids who are out of school, also out of camp, and have nothing to do over the summer [and also] parents who desperately need a break, and college students who desperately need jobs."

She said she emailed counselor applications to members of a KWH student committee but encourages any Penn undergraduate to apply by the May 30 deadline.  

Miller said she hopes the project helps all three groups she's targeting, but especially Penn students and the camp students.

“If you can have one week where you’re focusing on one specific thing that you’re excited about, that you can develop and then be proud of in the end, I think that that is a very motivating feeling that can bring you a lot of joy,” Miller said.