Rebecca Webster/Recorder staff First and second-graders at the Ralph J. McNulty Academy of International Studies and Literacy sit wide-eyed as they listen to author Jerry Antil (not shown) talk about his inspiration.
By REBECCA WEBSTER
Recorder News Staff
For the students at the Ralph J. McNulty Academy of International Studies and Literacy in Amsterdam, Friday wasn't an average school day.
It was an opportunity to utilize technology to learn more about an important skill: writing.
And it was an opportunity to learn that skill from an author.
Friday afternoon, each class at McNulty had the chance to Skype with author Jerry Antil, a Cortland native whose first book, "Handbook for Weekend Dads," brought him in connection to the McNulty school.
In the first session, Antil introduced himself to about 150 first and second grade students and told them how he got into writing that first book.
"My daughter, when she was 13, asked me to write the book," Antil told the students. "She said I did really good as a single dad so she asked me to write the book to help other dads. So I wrote it."
He spoke to the students about his writing routine and shared with them the ways he brainstorms for book ideas.
After Antil's talk, the students had the opportunity to ask the author some questions, one student wondering whether he writes to teach or entertain.
"I write to try to tell a story of something that's important to me that might hopefully be important to you," he said. "I hope I make it a good story because if it's not a good story it won't hold your attention.
"They say the best way to teach is to tell stories," he continued. "So I try to do both."
When he asked who in the room thought they were an author, nearly every child's hand shot up toward the ceiling.
Antil told the students he has only been an author for four years, a comment that brought "wows" from the young ones.
He told them that if he started writing at their age, he would have written 100 books by now.
The "wows" from the students continued.
Antil's connection to McNulty is a unique one.
Todd Giagni, principal of McNulty, said Friday before the Skype sessions that in the fall, Antil contacted the school looking to donate some books to the community.
"He told me he was an Amazon bestseller for his book called 'Handbook for Weekend Dads,' and he was publishing a children's historical fiction novel called 'The Pompey Hollow Book Club.'"
But it wasn't until Giagni and Antil really got talking that Giagni heard about Antil's initial reason for calling.
"The reason he contacted McNulty was because he has a house in New York City and the refrigerator repairman was there fixing his refrigerator. While he was fixing his refrigerator, he ended up talking to him and realized that he was a weekend dad and that his son actually attended McNulty," Giagni said.
So on Friday, aside from Skyping in with the kids on Friday, Antil also announced a writing contest that he created for the students.
The J.A. Hoomus writing contest, named after Antil's pen name, will begin soon and the deadline to submit stories is April 8.
"The contest is writing a story, that's all. Tell a story about your experience. It can be made up. It can be a science fiction story. It can be whatever. Tell a story," he said, adding that even pictures count.
The stories will be judged based on their originality and how well they are communicated.
After explaining to them the contest, Antil held up a photo of the grand prize.
"It's a computer!" the children yelled.
Antil will be giving an HP desktop to the student who wins the overall prize, and honorable mention awards will be given for each grade level.
"Each class has a winner," he told them. "But a second or first grader could win the grand prize. ... You can do it."
Antil will come to McNulty in May to present the awards to the winning students.
After the young ones left, the older students began pouring into the music room for another one of Antil's talks.
Sitting eagerly was 9-year-old Ineabelle Cruz, who said she wants to be a writer.
"I can get inspiration from other writers," Cruz said, adding that she was excited to be talking to a real author.
Cruz couldn't wait to ask where Antil got his ideas from and what his favorite book is.
"I'm hoping to learn how to write a book," she said.
The students have been participating in a new schoolwide initiative this year, called Writer's Workshop, something Giagni said happens everyday and is tailored to each grade level.
"It's a new initiative that started in January," he said.
Another author will be coming to the school in the spring to continue the emphasis on literacy and writing.