You sit in the library of the high school, poring over an essay. The overall theme is strong but the sentence structure is subpar and the conclusion could use some tightening up. For the twentieth time, you try reworking the ending, desperately attempting to bring your thesis back into the last paragraph. In a moment of frustration, you look up from you paper and let out a sigh. Catching your eye is the old Makerspace room, which now is redesigned to house the new Writing Center. Realizing you need some help, you quickly turn to the library web page and sign up for a peer session.
The new Oyster River High School Writing Center is staffed by approximately 15 non-senior students that have undergone training for the past two months and are thrilled to begin helping students of all grade levels on any writing projects, including class assignments, college applications, scholarship essays, or personal projects. The center is currently open to all students in order to test out the program and will be in full swing by the start of the new school year.
“I think that it’s pretty awesome that kids have the opportunity to get feedback outside their regular class because they get a lot of the same sorts of feedback from their teacher, so having an outside perspective can be great. I also see it as a good opportunity for kids to learn from their peers and I think that’s a good habit to get into because students have a lot to offer each other,” says Shauna Horsley, ORHS English teacher.
Although many of the details of the Writing Center are still being finalized, the general idea is that there would be opportunities to schedule with a tutor at a time before school, after school, during lunch, or during Flex. During a 30-minute to 50-minute session, the tutor and the student would review the piece of writing and make suggestions. These meetings can be scheduled online through the ORHS Library’s website found here.
The Writing Center tab on the library’s website states, “we want it to be a place where students can get help from their peers with writing in ANY subject in a safe, collaborative, low-pressure environment.” A writing center is a commonly found resource at most college and university libraries, providing a space for students of all majors and skill levels to seek assistance with any writing assignment.
Lauren Reid (‘19) is very excited for the creation of the Writing Center. “I really wish that I had something like that throughout my years because especially as a freshman and a sophomore, I think I needed a little more help with writing and it would have been really helpful,” she said.
Genevieve Wiechert (‘20), a tutor in the Writing Center, explained that a session is so much more than just one meeting. “Half of the workshop is fixing the paper but the other half is communicating in an effective way with the person so that they can use those skills beyond that one paper.” She added that as a tutor, “a skill that I’ll gain is being able to communicate better.”
Horsley said, “I think kids sometimes get the impression that the teacher has the right answer, knows the one way to do certain tasks such as writing, so this opens up that door that there are more people that can give you feedback or advice.”
The main organizer for the Writing Center is ORHS Librarian, Kathy Pearce, who has brought in a myriad of other writing instructors including ORHS alumna, Emily Croot, and ORMS former teacher, Suzie Renner to train the students to be writing tutors.
For the staff of the Writing Center, there are two options for how students can participate. The first possibility is to take a class for ELO credit which, although many of the details are still being figured out, would include textbook readings and analyzing writing samples. Others can opt to help with the center for volunteer hours, which can be used toward the National Honor Society or other service requirements.
“Honestly, I saw it as an opportunity to just help others,” said Cameron Jester (‘20), a tutor for the Writing Center. “I’m just really excited to take the opportunity to help others and of course, it’s going to help me in so many ways with my communication skills, my leadership skills – all these amazing things that will help me in college and even in my life after.”
The application process for the Writing Center included a submission of work, a list of writing-intensive classes, as well as a questionnaire to understand each individual’s learning and teaching style. Out of 20 applicants, 15 were accepted to the program, including juniors, sophomores, and freshmen. No seniors were allowed to apply because the training done this year was preparation for the opening in the 2020-2021 school year.
In addition to the application process, students who were accepted to be tutors have undergone two months of training on every double Flex day.
“I am impressed that these are kids who have spent over 7 hours now training for no other reason than that they are interested in helping other kids,” comments Pearce, adding, “they’re dedicated and devoted to creating a safe space where people can get help. I’m just really proud of them.”
Jester concluded, “right now, [the program] is in its beginning stages so I’m really excited to see where it goes from the end of this year and into next year. Hopefully, it’s going to be up and running by early next year. When I leave the school, hopefully it will have a lot of people involved in it.”