The Santa Cruz County Office of Education Tech Center was buzzing with conversation. Ideas were discussed. Content considered. All of it made for some worthwhile reflection as students considered just what it was that made them a good candidate for their college of choice.
In mid-September, over 90 high school seniors and juniors took advantage of the Young Writers Program’s first annual Personal Statement Workshop at the County Office of Education, bringing their ideas and rough drafts to two sessions staffed by community volunteers. Co-sponsored by the County Office of Education and Santa Cruz Writes, the Young Writers Program is dedicated to supporting Santa Cruz County students grades 4-12 and their teachers in building students’ writing skills and confidence.
“I loved volunteering and working with the kids on their essays,” said Richelle Naroyan, Santa Cruz City Councilmember. “Getting to know them and then brainstorming was fun. It was a joy.” Ms. Naroyan, along with mayor Don Lane, fellow councilmembers David Terrazas and Cynthia Chase and a host of local writers and educators, acted as one of 35 writing coaches who lent their support to students during the day.
The Personal Statement Workshop was conceived with the help of Associated Press journalist and Pulitzer Prize winning writer Martha Mendoza. For the last several years Ms. Mendoza has provided informal help to high school seniors as they prepared to submit their college applications, specifically the personal statement essay which plays a crucial part in the application.
“I had been helping teens with their college essays, and the requests were growing,” said Ms. Mendoza. “The Young Writers Program is already doing such a beautiful job helping students with their writing, so I approached them and asked if we could formalize and broaden my little side project. It ends up they had been thinking of doing something like this all along!”
Along with retired English teacher Connie Bertuca and Young Writers Program Director Julia Chiapella, the trio worked to codify the first of what will be an ongoing annual event provided to local juniors and seniors at the beginning of the school year.
The response to this year’s workshop was tremendous. Over 125 students registered online at the Young Writers Program website with 92 showing up on the day of the event.
The day began for the writing coaches with an hour-long training, followed by two, two-hour sessions for students. Students were asked to arrive with at least some ideas but many arrived with outlines and rough drafts. Some came for one session but many came for both. Complimentary string cheese and granola bars were a hit. With the Tech Center overflowing, the workshop spilled into the Board Room.
With applications to the California UC system at an all-time high, competition for admission is fierce. And while academic standing is significant, the personal statement is a way for students to bring their talents, background, and experiences to light, highlighting what makes them a good candidate. It’s an opportunity to let their voices shine.
Among the many students who received help, Santa Cruz High School senior Anastasia Oskoloff appreciated the support. “I really liked the whole process and found it extremely helpful,” she said.
Kudos to these dedicated, hard-working students who spent their Saturday devoted to getting this essay well on its way.
For more information on the Young Writers Program go to: http://www.youngwritersprogram.santacruzwrites.org.