SUWANEE -- The key to winning a top state writing award for North Gwinnett Middle was to make writing a way of life at the school.
The school's eighth-graders, its charter class, recently were awarded first place for the state writing test, and improved its "exceeds" expectations category to 37 percent, a five percent increase over last year. North took the top spot after it finished second to Osborne Middle the last two years. Not surprisingly, the students and their teachers celebrated with pizza, cookies and sodas.
Teacher Karen George said writing is a lifetime skill that should be valued as much as thinking, in all subjects.
"There's the expectation for the school that they're writing across the curriculum, having that expectation that they'll write in all classes definitely helps," George said.
The county proved again to be a hotbed of writers as seven Gwinnett middle schools made the state's top 20 list of scoring at this highest level.
Student Vanessa Turner said other teachers would offer tests in essay form as the school aimed to make writing second nature.
"It really comes naturally to us now," student Jenna Scott said.
The students said a turning point came when they learned SAT vocabulary words, and "brushstrokes," which they learned is a way to add variety to writing.
"The more you practice, the more it becomes part of your bag of writing skills," George said.
Principal Wanda Law attributed the success to the collaboration of teachers from all subjects. But the students were motivated as well.
"They want to do well," Law said. "On the day of the test, they said, 'I think I did the best I could.'"
Because the class received high marks after its sample test in August, and the students and teachers realized the work they put in, the results were not a shock.
"I kind of always knew our class, 2016, is really smart," Scott said.
Teachers also noted that the students took similar tests as sixth- and seventh-graders, so the eighth-grade version was not a new experience.
"But the school as a whole was a vertical effort as far as preparing them for this test," teacher Susan Harris said.
The students wrote about ways to donate money, and they were scored on categories like ideas, conventions, style and organization.
"We knew it was there," Harris said. "We were hopeful to see there would be a bigger jump (from the sample test."