Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Teacher as Citizen

EMWP Partnership with Hamtramck Public Schools

By Tricia Maslow

Two schools in the Hamtramck School District had the opportunity to enter into a partnership with the EMWP this year. Along with two teacher consultants that are members of the school staff at each school, Dave Fisher was assigned to assist in the project.

As a result of this partnership, three teachers from Hamtramck will be able to attend the 2008 Invitational this year. This will increase the number of teacher consultants in the district, and hopefully it will continue to gain momentum as more people join in the coming summers.

Staff members from both schools were given professional development time to:

  • Visit schools in other districts to observe reading and writing workshops.
  • Observe for a half day, and then go back to building to discuss and reflect on the morning experiences.

The partnership enabled the staff from both buildings to volunteer to attend a Saturday workshop at Wayne State University presented by the Wayne State Writing Project Teacher Consultants. Even though it was a Saturday, about 20 staff members attended and left with new ideas, attitudes and excitement about the teaching of writing. Many people are already trying the lessons they observed in their own classrooms.

As a result of this partnership, the two schools will pilot two separate week long writing camps this summer. Creative Inklings will be held one week at the middle school for advanced writers in grades 7-8 and one week for the elementary level for grades 4-6. The camp will involve the students in a writing experience that is sure to be inspirational and memorable. During the week long camp, the writers will have the opportunity to:

· Experience a writing marathon.

· Write in a comfortable and encouraging atmosphere.

· Participate in reading and writing response groups.

· Contribute to an anthology that will be published by the week’s end with a celebration.

The camp teaching staff will gain professional development daily, and have the opportunity to teach mini lessons throughout the week. Then, once school starts in the fall, the 6 teachers along with the director and co-director will meet three times during the year to discuss what they are trying in the classroom, and support each other as they continue to try new writing lessons.

EMWP Representatives Seek Federal Support

By Debbie Young

Hundreds of Writing Project teachers, from all fifty states, and from all grade levels K-16, gathered in Washington, D.C. on April 3rd and 4th as part of the National Writing Project Spring Conference. These teachers know how much the Writing Project has helped them, and in essence, that was the message they went to Washington D. C. to deliver.

Sarah Lorenz, (TC ’97), and I, (Debra Young, TC ’06), from the EMWP, joined other teachers from Writing Projects of Michigan to make a strong delegation who requested the continued financial support of the Writing Project by Congress. Teachers generally made appointments to meet with Congresspersons who represent the district where he or she lives, works, or where the Writing Project has served schools in the past. Sarah and I met with Rep. John Dingell, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, Rep. John Conyer’s assistant, Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s assistant, and Sen. Carl Levin’s assistant.

Each visit was an amazing experience. In each case we were greeted warmly and made to feel that our opinions and experiences with the Writing Project are important. In our meetings, one consistent comment that was expressed by the politicians, or those who represented them, is that writing is an essential skill for today’s workforce. Many with whom we spoke with credit their own ability to write well as the means for getting them into the job positions they now hold.

Our meeting with Rep. John Dingell was very warm and friendly. It was especially meaningful to me when he recalled the 55 letters that I hand delivered to him one year ago during my visit to the 2007 Writing Project Spring Conference. My third graders wrote persuasive letters about social issues that concern them. He even made specific reference to a few of those concerns my students had expressed. Others from his staff also remembered the letters, and they made positive comments as well. These brief meetings do establish trust with the politicians whose decisions affect education so greatly. Fortunately, Rep. Dingell has been a supporter of the Writing Project in the past.

Perhaps the meeting that turned out to be the most fun was with Rep. Thaddeus McCotter. He had an intense interest in hearing about our work. McCotter, who you can tell loves to write himself, is a very funny man. During the visit he continually cracked jokes about the importance of writing. At one point he even called one of his junior staff members into our meeting and joked with him about writing. The young man who I’ll call “Henry” reluctantly approached Sarah and me. Mc Cotter told the young man, who was about twenty years old, “Henry, these women can teach you to write. They can even teach kids to write. You ought to listen to them!” Poor Henry barely broke a smile, and this led Sarah and me to conclude that McCotter was, indeed, quite serious about his remarks to Henry. In the context of the setting, it was funny because others in the office heard the Representative joking about writing.

Sarah was able to make a special connection with McCotter because she has done some Writing Project work in the school where his three children attend. Finally, near the end of our conversation with him, McCotter told his senior assistant, named Crystal, to “sign me up for this, Crystal.” He was referring to adding his signature of support to legislation that funds the National Writing Project. Sarah and I felt great when we left this meeting; the entire staff was lively and interested in the teaching of writing.

Hopefully, our pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. will leave a favorable and lasting impression on our nation’s policy makers. Their Congressional votes are needed to keep local Writing Project sites fully functional. Last year, the National Writing Project received $21.5 million from the federal government. These funds touch the lives of over 16,000,000 students who are in the classrooms of NWP teachers. Furthermore, NWP sites, located on university and college campuses in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, conduct Summer Institutes for over 3,000 participants each summer. In addition, over 7,000 teacher consultants reach over 92,000 teachers each year by providing professional development. The National Writing Project is so much more than a federal “expenditure.” It is an important vehicle for improvement in student writing while at the same time it provides inspiration for teachers.

Rep.Thaddeus McCotter (Republican), Debra Young and Sarah Lorenz