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Ten teen writers, including myself, were chosen from around the nation to attend a journalism conference Oct. 12 to 15 sponsored by the Youth Editors Association of America. At this conference, the teen writers gave a presentation to about 50 newspaper youth editors from around the country, to educate each other with new ideas for our teen sections.

NeXt editor Jean Westmoore and I flew into Springfield, Ill., at about 4:30 p.m. on the 12th. As soon as I arrived in Springfield, I expected to see a bunch of teen geniuses who ate, dreamed and slept writing. What I saw were 10 friendly, interesting people eager to meet each other and have fun at the conference.

People tend to think that everyone in the United States shares the same everyday lives. We did share one thing in common -- we enjoyed writing for our local newspaper. However, the accents, dress, vocabulary and interests were dramatically different.

We all met in a reception in the old Illinois State Capitol. Interpreters told us about the history of each room. We all pretended to act interested, but all we really wanted to do was get to the dinner and meet each other.

The next day, we met in a room to critique teen sections sent to us by various newspapers nationwide. We broke into groups of qualities we think a teen section should have. I was assigned to the "overall" group. I was also unknowingly "elected" the computer expert who assisted each group in creating a Powerpoint presentation and even creating the presentations myself if the groups did not know how to do it. Needless to say, I did not get much sleep that night, as I was in the hospitality suite of the hotel until about 3 a.m. with constant, "Ben, I need your help!" calls. (In the end, we did create a well-designed project.)

The next morning, we anxiously put together our speeches and presentations. About 10 minutes before our scheduled presentation, I also learned I had been chosen to give the closing statements about our presentation. Afterward, we were relentlessly interrogated by the editors -- which we should have anticipated -- about exactly how each edition should be done, although it was done in a humorous and sympathetic way.

After that, when we weren't attending meetings, we (the teen writers) would go out and tour the town, shop at the local malls, etc. We learned a lot about each other and quickly formed a family, even though we would only see each other for three days. The nice thing about this group is that no one needed to form a clique; no one grouped together. We were all unified by a love of writing. However, most of the time, we did not talk about writing. Although we all talked differently and dressed differently, we all liked the same kinds of music, sports, activities and so on. We also improved our writing abilities by learning about each other's ideas, interests and styles of writing.

After seeing some of the best teen sections in the country, we will incorporate some of those ideas into NeXt. And so, after being "enlightened" by the conference, we hope to provide you, the reader, with a more entertaining and informative NeXt.

Ben Allen is a junior at Grand Island High School.

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