Jaws Writes Poetry: Charles J. Colgan Sr. High School Sharks’ Creative Writing Wins VHSL State Championships

Home of the Sharks, the creative writing program of the Center for Fine and Performing Arts at Charles J. Colgan Sr. High School has won the Virginia High School League (VHSL) State Championship in Creative Writing. Additionally, Indigo Green, a recent graduate, won an individual state championship for poetry.

The winning collection submitted by Colgan High, which included four pieces earning the “Superior” rating, consisted of the following:

Essays: “Driving with the Windows Down” by Kitti Pierce-Moystner and Honorable Mention “The Frogship Shop” by Savanna Loy

Short stories: “Mercenary Pizza” by Aidan Sadler and “Stolitsa” by Tirayan Bartlett

Poetry: “Descent” by Gabriela Hawkins and winner of Indigo Green’s “Momma Sang Da Blues” VHSL State Champion

“I’m a writer for a reason!” exclaimed Jessica Dyche, professor of creative writing at Colgan, laughing embarrassed as she rocked in her seat behind the veritable cornucopia of pens, pencils, papers, skeletons, elephants, cacti and a sign that triumphantly proclaims: “SLAY girl!

“I mean, we all share the same love,” Dyche shared of her creative writing students. “For me, writing is like water, and for them it’s like air. So when you have these things together, it makes some nice waves.

Dyche started his 10e year of teaching, including six at Colgan High. In just his fourth year as the Center for Fine and Performing Arts Creative Writing Lead, Dyche coached his students to win the coveted VHSL State Championship in Creative Writing for 2021- 2022, as well as a State Poetry Championship by graduate Indigo Green.

“I’m so proud of them. This is their trophy,” Dyche said firmly. “But, as long as they come here and enjoy writing, that’s what matters to me. We take their passions and turn them into something tangible and created by them.

Coming from a competitive field of 31 other Virginia schools with just over 186 students, Colgan upset the Thomas Jefferson School for Science and Technology to repeat as a three-time state champion. The last PWCS school to achieve this designation was Woodbridge High School in 2018-19.

The award is a validation of the principles – craftsmanship, professionalism, process – on which Dyche has built Colgan’s culture. “Our literary journals are all student-run. There are books, “Dyche stopped to reach for one of many student publications,” that all seniors have self-published and worked on as part of their cornerstone. I insist on [principles], then I give the floor to the students so that they really do something about it. And the students have.

Their first literary magazine, Siren, was more traditional, and at the request of students for creative freedom and intentional play, they launched a second experimental literary magazine, The Megalodon. It is this kind of dedication and commitment that has led to the success of the program.

“We stay every day after school to work on InDesign and… [a plethora] of emotions come out with self-published work books. Dyche recalled, on his 35e birthday, sitting with a student all evening to finish a publication. Holding the published book, she confesses with a smile: “Putting this book out was probably the best 35e birthday present, because seeing a student’s words come to life…” she pauses for a moment.

Although winning the VHSL Championships is a highlight of the year, Dyche admits the real victory is the love of writing her students share with her. She concludes: “Every day is a success if they like to write.”