Check out a child’s online writing these days and it’s likely to consist of acronyms, emoticons, and overused exclamation points. So a PTO program that focuses on traditional writing skills is heartwarming, to say the least.

One such example is the Writing Olympics program, which has been running for more than a decade at Hoosic Valley Elementary in Schaghticoke, N.Y. The Writing Olympics program not only encourages students to write stories and poe-try but also celebrates their accomplishments with a springtime assembly in which all writers receive certificates. After getting the certificates, writers and families gather in small groups, have refreshments, and listen to the stories as they are read aloud.

All students—even kindergartners—are encouraged to participate, according to Karen Carlson, copresident of the Hoosic Valley PTO. “Some of the stories are three sentences long,” she says of the younger students’ submissions. But the writing still follows a basic story format with a beginning, middle, and end.

The program was initially set up as a competition with a panel of parent judges who selected a winning entry. This led to hurt feelings, defeating the purpose of encouraging writers. The PTO adopted the new approach of recognizing all submissions. Some writers submit work for each elementary school year and receive special recognition when they graduate.

The program also encourages parent involvement. Many parents pitch in to get handwritten stories online. A local printer volunteers each year to print a booklet of the submissions, titled “The Hoosic Valley Writing Olympics.”

“Students are writing now less and less and communicate so differently,” Carlson says, “so it’s great having a parent-supported group say ‘This is really important.’”