By Gabrielle Fellows
Students from area school districts fill the halls of Youngstown State University April 22-24 for the 37th annual English Festival.
Around 5,000 students appear every year to discuss literature, write collaboratively and share their love and passion for the English arts during the festival.
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the teens follow a given schedule that leads them to sessions where they must challenge their perceptions of the books on that year’s required reading list. The sessions end with an awards ceremony that honors the students who produced the most outstanding work during that day’s sessions.
The English Festival was originally created to instill and promote a love of reading and writing into younger children, fostering the idea that linguistics can be both rewarding and enjoyable.
Gary Salvner, co-chair of the English Festival committee, said the event is meant to bring students together who love writing and reading fervently.
“The whole idea of it is to encourage and reward reading and writing,” Salvner said. “We want to convince kids that it’s fun as well as academic. It shows that reading and writing not only as school subjects, but an active and fun part of their lives.”
Rachel Beach, a community volunteer, said she believes that the English Festival makes it easy for students to connect with a unique group of people who may be more elusive and shy than the everyday teen.
“It’s common for kids to like to write and read online, but that puts them in their own little community and world that’s disconnected from their reality,” Beach said. “The English Festival brings kids face to face with others that have the same interest.”
Students who come to the event often attend for many years and credit the event for strengthening their passion for the arts.
Hannah Jefferson, a student at YSU and volunteer at this year’s English Festival, said attending the event when she was younger is the reason for her extensive love of literature and language.
“Without the English Festival, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wanted to be many different things when I was growing up until I attended the festival in 2008 when I met Chris Crutcher and heard him speak. It made me reflect and I thought about the influence that his books had on my life,” Jefferson said. “After that, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to write … and connect with others through books, and the English Festival helped me realize that.”
From the camaraderie to the books themselves, the English Festival is a peaceful gathering place for lit-loving students year after year.
Julia Gergits, the chair of the English department, said that the event is always filled and will remain for years to come.
“It’s at full capacity — we have all the students that we can house at this point. There is definitely no decline in participation now or any time in the future,” Gergits said. “It’s as big as it can be … it’s wonderful to see all these kids interested in these topics.”