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Getting It Off the Ground: The Wildcat Writing Center's Inaugural Year

By: Alison Hughes
Publication: The Journal of the Virginia Writing Project
Date: January 7, 2013

Summary: Alison Hughes, a teacher-consultant of the Northern Virginia Writing Project, shares her experience from starting a writing center at Centreville High School, school year 2010–2011, and offers resources and lessons learned from her experience.

 

Excerpt from Article

As a teacher who doesn't get a chance to write nearly as often as I'd like, I sometimes forget what a lonely experience writing can be when you're left with only the words on the page to keep you company and no one to talk to about them. That's why writing centers are so essential: all writers benefit from having someone to talk to about what they're doing, how it's working, and where it's going.

Naturally, most people feel more comfortable talking to someone about their writing who they perceive as non-judgmental and approachable because sharing work, especially in its early drafts, can be a scary thing. As much as it might sting for us to realize as teachers though, some of our students might not perceive us as the ideal non-judgmental, approachable helpers for their writing advice. Often, students are more apt to ask questions and get the help they need from each other, and it's this philosophy that drives a writing center, where students are trained to serve as peer tutors for their classmates.

This past school year, we began the Wildcat Writing Center, so named for our school mascot, at Centreville High School where I teach. While I'm by no means an expert, I have definitely learned a lot over the course of this school year. I'm hoping that those of you reading will learn from my process and be encouraged that the undertaking, though at times difficult, is definitely worth it.

The Beginning
Last year, Fairfax County Public Schools held a Writing Center Summit, and each school sent a few representatives. Writing centers, places where student tutors assist their peers with writing, have long been a staple at most universities, but many of those in attendance that day didn't know how this kind of thing could work at the high school level. After seeing presentations from Leigh Ryan, the writing center director at University of Maryland, and Amber Jensen, an English teacher and pioneer of the writing center at Edison High School, I was excited about the possibilities. In particular, hearing from Amber's student tutors about their positive experiences working in this leadership role was very intriguing. After the summit, most of the Fairfax County high schools began to seriously consider how they could start similar programs. . . .

Copyright © 2011 Northern Virginia Writing Project. Reprinted with permission.
Hughes, Alison. 2011. "Getting It Off the Ground: The Wildcat Writing Center's Inaugural Year." The Journal of the Virginia Writing Project 32 (1): 19–26.

About the Author
Alison Hughes is a teacher at Centreville High School and a teacher-consultant of the Northern Virginia Writing Project.

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