Writing Fellows help peers in renovated Writing Center

Even the seniors, soon to graduate, cannot remember the last writing center. This year marks the first in five years that the Writing Center has opened, and the first year that students, members of Writing Fellows, have staffed the center. Many students took advantage of the center this year, but the leaders of the program, teachers Jennifer Dracos-Tice and Mario Chard, are working incredibly hard to evaluate and improve the program for students in the future.

For example, starting next year, the students who work diligently to staff the Writing Center will take on a new title, Writing Mentors. With the name change, the program closely resembles that of Mu Alpha Theta, the math-tutoring program operating out of the math lab. Unlike the students in the math lab, however, the Writing Mentors will have completed the Writing Fellows elective course, which prepares them for their work in the Writing Center.

“We spend almost an entire year teaching them how to conduct these thirty minute sessions in the Writing Center. Our Writing Fellows students work according to specific instructions. For example, at the end of each session, they make sure to email the teacher that assigned the student’s assignment and give them a summary of what we worked on,” said Dracos-Tice. “It’s really awesome. We have students that did Writing Fellows helping students that are older than them.”

In fact, Dracos-Tice and Chard’s pilot Writing Fellows class three years ago allowed the eventual re-opening of the Writing Center. Dracos-Tice and Chard hand selected five students during the 2013-2014 school year to more deeply explore their own writing and learn about how to help others.

“Three years ago we met twice a week on Monday and Wednesday for an hour after school, just like we do now. And we will just explore as much writing as we can. We do poetry, creative nonfiction, slam, graphic-novel writing, and electronic coding,” said Dracos-Tice. “The students end up doing a lot at one time. They create a portfolio of their work in different genres, develop their own individual writing pieces, and starting this year, delegate time to serve in the Writing Center.”

The students who participated in Writing Fellows explain that by working on their own individual writing pieces through the program, they not only improved their own writing but also gained a better appreciation for all different genres and a motivated work environment needed to finish a piece.

“Participating in Writing Fellows has given me greater confidence in myself as a writer.  I feel much more comfortable sharing my writing with others now that I have been a part of a community like Writing Fellows,” said senior Lillie Caravati. “I have also discovered new literary genres that I enjoy immensely, such as creative nonfiction, flash fiction, and spoken word.”

Since the program proved a success, the following year, Dracos-Tice and Chard extended the group to seven members. Nevertheless, the application process for Writing Fellows remained very difficult, requiring the students to be involved in a school publication and display an interest in creating their own writing pieces.

“I began working on the Embryo staff during my sophomore year, and while I have enjoyed being a part of it, I wanted to join a group that focused solely on writing and exploring various literary genres. The application was really competitive, I applied and was accepted into the Writing Fellows program for my senior year,” said Caravati. “Writing Fellows provided me with the opportunity to become a part of a tight-knit community of writers where everyone feels comfortable sharing their work with each other.”

Writing Fellows essentially serves as the backbone of the Writing Center. By teaching and training students dedicated to writing through Writing Fellows, Dracos-Tice and Chard were able to eventually accomplish their goal of using the Writing Fellows members to help those students struggling with their writing at Westminster.

The conclusion of the Writing Center’s first year is approaching, and Dracos-Tice reports that the Writing Fellows staffing the center have been incredibly successful in raising students’ grades and improving important application essays.

In addition to numbers-based success, the students that have come into the writing center have been truly inspired.

“They gave helpful tips on how to make my writing much better. I also loved the person I worked with. She spoke well and knew more about my topic than me,” said freshman Mikaela Sanders.

The students that are entering the program next year are enthusiastic about the opportunity to expand and improve their writing, as well as dedicating time towards improving the Writing Center.

“I am really excited about our participation in National Writing Month and National Poetry Month, but most of all, I feel that I will learn a lot and enjoy my time being a part of [Writing Fellows],” said freshman Maya Manley.