Flint & Genesee Literacy Network announces winners of Youth Storytelling Contest

FLINT, Michigan — To help promote the mission to increase literacy rates in Genesee County, the Flint & Genesee Literacy Network hosted its first-ever Youth Storytelling Contest. Flint & Genesee Literacy Network Family Advocate and Americorps Member Ummy Siddiqui says the contest began as a Summer Learning Days initiative back in August 2023.

The first prompt was to write a summer adventure, but the contest got extended until March and then shifted a bit to encourage more participation. The Youth Storytelling Contest prompt became more open and encouraged participants to write any kind of fictional story. Entries were submitted virtually, into three tiers: written, video, and illustration.  

Siddiqui works on youth literacy services and helps plan and promote campaigns to raise awareness of resources and ways to help students, especially to avoid the summertime slide. As young students spend time outside of the classroom during the break, they tend to fall behind when school starts again in the Fall season.

To help combat that, the network came up with a contest to encourage storytelling, creativity, and expression. From November 2023 to March 2024, to Pre-K through 12th-grade students, the contest was designed to promote literacy, creativity, individuality, and expression amongst local Genesee County youth. 

“We wanted the contest to be as inclusive as possible and to reach as many interested participants as possible,” says Siddiqui. “We split the contest into three categories, according to the different age groups. The thinking behind that was to also make it inclusive so that different varying abilities and learning styles could participate. We had a written category, a video category, and an illustration category.”

About 20 people entered the contest which closed last month. Eight winners were chosen by staff and volunteer judges. Students depicted various themes, including fantasy, adventure, horror, animals, and more.

The winners are as follows:

Cadence Wilson (grade 0)
Zeyn Ayan (grade 3)
Maverick Mahler (grade 4)
Nurjennah Siddiqui (grade 5)
Micah Mahler (grade 6)
Scipio Poplar (grade 6)
Mustafa Ayan (grade 7)
Lina Ayan (grade 9)

Donated prizes included tablets, trampoline park passes, LEGOLAND, SEA LIFE Michigan Aquarium, and more. 

Siddiqui says literacy is not just an issue in Genesee County, but a widespread issue across the map. 

“Part of literacy begins with early childhood and being exposed to these sorts of things,” says Siddiqui.

To pique students’ interest and inspire creativity, the contest was designed to get students engaged in a task that otherwise might be a homework assignment and to make learning fun. 

“Fostering that creativity can do so many things for the brain, especially for the developing brain as children. All around, it’s a good thing to promote,” explained Siddiqui. “The humanities has always been a way to promote more learning and a different development of the brain — that critical thinking piece.”

Regarding teenagers, the contest was designed to provide a safe space for them to express their voices and be reflective of their interests. 

“As far as the youth, I think we often forget that teenage brains are still developing,” says Siddiqui. “So they need as much positive social, emotional, and creative stimulation as a young child. It’s something I believe that our youth are really missing and craving, and maybe what leads to them seeking it out through other, often detrimental, means.”

This year’s storytelling contest began pretty organically, but the Flint & Genesee Literacy Network hopes to continue the contest again next year. Ideally, they’d like to get more involved in local school districts to help encourage promotion and participation. 

To learn more about the work of the Flint & Genesee Literacy Network, visit: flintliteracynetwork.org
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