Volunteers: the Special Ingredient to Young Writers Program Success

It’s a simple equation: learning accelerates when students have individual attention. Begun in August of 2012, The Young Writers Program (YWP) has worked steadily to support students in grades 4-12 with their creative and critical writing skills and to help teachers inspire students to write. Individual attention is at the heart of the program. Trained Writing Project Assistants work individually with students on their writing in the classroom. The end result of such a pairing is stronger skills that are fundamental to future success.

students sitting in a row in front of red curtainThe Young Writers Program’s project-based approach gives students ownership of their writing process, strengthening their ability to express themselves clearly and in their own voice. This approach inspires students to learn new skills so they can write with confidence and clearly express their ideas. Initiated by the teacher, Classroom projects run from three to six weeks and volunteers are typically in the classroom two to three hours a week.

The energy and reach of our volunteer base allows us to partner with schools all over Santa Cruz County, so teachers have the support for projects they ordinarily might not be able to do. Whether students are writing personal narratives, poetry, or learning sentence structure, our Writing Project Assistants sit side-by-side with them and lend a hand to dramatically lower the student-to-teacher ratio.

Writing Project Assistants attend training sessions several times during the year. Trainings cover strategies and tools, involve role-play around Writing Project Assistant skills, and provide information on working with students of different ages, skills, and needs. Check our website for the next Writing Project Assistant trainings.

The Young Writers Program classroom projects for 2013-14 launched in September in Terra Barsanti’s Pacific Elementary classroom in Davenport and will continue at various school sites throughout the year. Each project matches Writing Project Assistants with specific teachers and their students, with most projects resulting in a professionally designed publication of student work along with readings by students of their writing.

The Young Writers Program could not succeed without our volunteer Writing Project Assistants. Many of our volunteers also help outside the classroom: editing, designing and laying out publications, and helping with fundraisers—like the one with writer Dave Eggers at Bookshop Santa Cruz—and student readings. There’s plenty of work to go around! The hard work by these volunteers enables us to strengthen students’ academic abilities, writing skills, and love of learning and build a sustainable program.

Currently the Young Writers Program has four projects in three districts in Santa Cruz County. Following winter break, YWP will facilitate six projects over the course of the winter and spring, bringing the range of the program into six of the ten districts. Our five-year goal is to have the program established in all ten Santa Cruz County school districts.

Projects Published to Date:

  • “This I Believe” poster, CEIBA College Prep
  • Raindrop, River, Ocean…and You! Newsletter, Pacific Elementary School independent study
  • Hatched, 2013 Magazine, Mission Hill Middle School 7th graders
  • Important Stuff I Learned, Mission Hill Middle School 8th graders
  • Threads of Water and Fire, Shoreline Middle School 6th graders
  • My Heart Jumped out of My Body, Gault Elementary 5th graders
  • Surviving Our Stories, Our Truth, Watsonville High 11th graders

Current Projects:

  • Terra Barsanti, Pacific Elementary, Davenport, Grades 4-6
  • Wendy Thompson, Branciforte Middle School, Santa Cruz, Grade 8
  • Lizann Keyes, Soquel High School, Santa Cruz, Grade 9
  • Shelley Aschliman, CEIBA College Prep, Watsonville, Grade 8

If you are a teacher and would like to bring Writing Project Assistants into your classroom to complete a focused writing project, please contact Julia Chiapella, Director of the Young Writers Program. Involving students, teachers, and community members, the Young Writers Program can engage and support students in building confident writing skills and encouraging their unique voices.