Friday, November 21, 2014
Philip reminded me of so many squirmy, little seventh graders from my teaching days. He sat across from me at a table in his school as we worked together on a writing assignment his teacher had given to his class. First, Philip yawned and fiddled with his pencil. I had to draw him back to his task. We worked for a while. Then he turned slightly towards the window and watched a bird fly by. The paper he was working on was a class question about bullying. The class had already spent time talking about the consequences of bullying and how a bystander could intervene. The question was a hard one, but Philip had participated in the discussion because he was ready with answers a soon as I began to ask him questions about his assignment. The paper in front of him, though, was blank. Philip just didn't know how to write down what he was thinking. That was why I sat across from him. I am a volunteer writer coach with the WriterCoach Connection in the Berkeley, Albany, Oakland, and Richmond school systems.
The program has been a part of the secondary schools in these school systems since 2001 when Dr. Mary Lee Cole, who had observed another successful program on the East Coast, introduced it. I had chosen to work in a middle school because I was familiar with that age group and I knew I had something to offer them as they developed their writing abilities. I knew to expect blank papers and fidgeting. I also knew that once someone from that age group became engaged they were fun to work with. Watching them think through a problem was enjoyable as I saw them grapple with their own understanding. I have seen the 'light at the end of the tunnel' look come over faces as they comprehend in a deep way an idea before them.
Philip and I had only fifteen minutes to work on his essay. We spent part of the time going over what he thought were important points to make, and the rest of the time I sat while he began to write his essay. I returned the next week. His face lit up briefly when he saw me enter the classroom. When we sat down together, he brought out his papers from the clutter in his binder. The papers hadn't been worked on since we last met. I hadn't expected that. But, at least now he had a whole page of writing, and we could work to insert additional information within his first draft.
At the end of our fifteen minutes, Philip tucked away his papers, and I walked with him back to his classroom. I hoped that he would take out his papers again, finish the remaining details, and turn his assignment in. I thought how lucky he and his fellow students are to have the WriterCoach program. I wished as a teacher that I had had something similar in place when I taught middle school.
California has been in a severe water drought for the last four years. The funding drought in our school systems extends far longer than that. But, sometimes, someone like Dr. Cole finds a brilliant solution such as the WriterCoach Connection to increase the readiness of all students with the use of skilled volunteers. Her answer reminds me that money can't solve every problem. It's the commitment from people that matters.
Check out WriterCoach Connection's website: http://www.writercoachconnection.org
They are doing incredible work for our young people!