Since 2015, Northern California Writing Project has provided College, Career, and Community Writers Program (C3WP) professional development to schools across their service area. Participating districts were pleased to see positive results on their Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) state writing scores such as those from Yreka High school, but given the positive results from national studies of C3WP’s effectiveness, this was not surprising.
What was surprising was the impact C3WP had on school culture, student engagement and agency, and community involvement.
Maxwell Unified School District in Northern California began implementing C3WP at the beginning of the 2018–2019 school year. After one year of the program, teachers noted that the focus on civic discourse and community had spread beyond individual classrooms and impacted the entire school culture. Students carried the lessons about respect and courtesy onto the playground and into other classrooms. John Patterson, 6th–8th grade English Language Arts teacher, says “I realized after a year of this that our suspension rates had gone down massively, and the number of detentions we were writing had gone down massively. It completely changed the culture of our school and the way that students treat each other."
A few hours north of Maxwell, students at Yreka High School seized on the opportunity provided by C3WP’s Making Civic Arguments unit to identify and study a wide variety of community-based issues, including the need to upgrade and reopen a community pool, the need for essential services for the homeless population, and the value of a mobile health unit to service residents in the far-flung regions of the county. They then presented the results of their work to the community.
As a result of their research and writing during the 2018-2019 school year, the City of Yreka submitted a grant proposal for the community pool renovations and upgrades, volunteers broke ground on a temporary low-cost/no-cost housing facility for the homeless, and the Siskiyou County Department of Public Health took possession of a mobile health unit that provides healthcare screenings and preventive medicine to residents of isolated communities throughout the county.
The emphasis on using writing for real civic purposes is more than a fortunate by-product of C3WP, according to NWP’s Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, it’s the point. “Assessment data are valuable indicators that help us improve our practices, but for young people, the real measure is whether their writing—their voice—can have a real impact in the world. When they see it does, then they have a reason to do the hard work of improving their writing.”
That sounds right to Carla Truttman, Teacher on Special Assignment/Instructional Coach at the Siskiyou County Office of Education and Inservice Co-Director and C3WP Program Director at the Northern California Writing Project. Truttman says, “the significance of NWP programs like C3WP is that they work to achieve both valued academic outcomes and significant life and community outcomes. C3WP does promote improved literacy instruction. But we came to value, even more, the way it fostered positive change in our school cultures to ensure our public education continues to provide a foundation for a healthy democracy.”