by Claire Applewhite

It began with a question.

voices-of-excellence1I couldn’t say “no.” You know the feeling well, I’m sure. I love to write and I love to read, and so, in the Fall of 2009, I agreed to serve as a judge for state creative writing competitions, grades 4-8. Entries poured in from across Missouri, representing the diverse voices of the Midwest region. Patterns emerged that I could not ignore. That is, the stories with ”voice,” that riveted a listener to a seat and rendered them breathless, often lacked proper format, punctuation and grammar. These “gems” never reached the “finalists” pile. More and more, I felt a program was needed to target the “basics,” before they were submitted.

Why? A community is richer when every voice contributes. Every voice deserves to be heard. The seeds for Voices of ExcellenceTM had been planted. Using the needs I saw as a competition judge, I developed a course designed to write and deliver a professional presentation.

Again, in early 2011, I couldn’t say “no.” I agreed to serve as Community Outreach Coordinator for the St. Louis Metropolitan Medical Society Alliance.

An Alliance member remarked that she had attended the Graduation Mass at Loyola Academy, and was disappointed when she couldn’t hear or understand some of the students’ speeches. The more she described these students—motivated and bright, but often lacking in resources, guidance and support—the more I thought about Voices of Excellence.TM Was it designed for the needs of same student? Could we collaborate? In the summer of 2011, the first Voices of ExcellenceTM program launched at Loyola Academy in Midtown St. Louis.

The Voices of ExcellenceTM program is a two-part course, designed to improve written and oral literacy. Its primary goal is to empower students with the basic knowledge of communication tools, such as proper grammar, spelling and format, as well as effective public speaking skills. The flexible curriculum encourages a wide variety of topics, and is appropriate for any student, especially at the 6-8 grade level, regardless of their expertise.

More and more, effective communication skills cannot be overemphasized. They confer a voice of excellence that makes the good message a great one.