Saline High School’s new Writing Center has already helped students with more than 180 pieces of writing this school year, but both staff and student “consultants” are hoping to spread the word and help even more students in the center.
Jen Denzin, the English Department Chair at Saline High School, proposed the idea during the previous school year based on feedback about students not having enough support throughout the writing process. She felt older students with strong writing skills could mentor younger students.
Denzin went to a conference related to writing centers along with colleague and now writing center co-director Madelyn Clark, and the writing center kicked off in the smaller of the two rooms that make up the high school's “Hornet Hub” this autumn.
Student consultants are recommended by their English teachers and have to apply to work at the writing center. These writing center consultants receive school credit for independent study.
Students who work in the center are called “consultants” because it puts them on a more level playing field with the students who come for help, Denzin said.
“It gives a more equitable feeling of let’s work on this together,” Denzin said.
Students can submit writing online or come into the center in person for help. The writing center students also give special presentations in classes and help other students with revisions during writing assignments. The consultants have also provided feedback on college application essays during lunch periods.
Additionally, the center sponsors fun extracurricular writing events. One involved having students write six-word stories in chalk in the school’s courtyard, and a “write-in” on the topic of social justice will be coming soon. Another project will be collecting student writing on the theme of “journeys” to be compiled into a literary magazine, complete with art student illustrations, at the end of the school year.
Erica Webb, a 17-year-old senior, joined the writing center as a consultant at the start of the second trimester.
“I’ve always loved English, and I thought it would be cool to help others become better writers,” Webb said.
Stefania Gonzalez, also 17 and a senior, says that comma usage is a challenge for many of her peers, but her own personal challenge is to help students improve their writing while allowing each student’s individuality to come through.
“Each person has their own voice,” she said.
Student Becky Mitchell is the writing center’s seasoned pro, since she has served as a consultant since the very beginning of the program.
“This class is truly my favorite high school course I have ever taken, particularly for its opportunities for independence, unique learning styles, progressive classroom techniques, and most, of all, the ability to help others in the high school,” she said.
Mitchell wanted to emphasize to other students that the writing center space is comfortable, with the option to sit on a stool at a counter or lounge on a sofa. Gonzalez agreed, calling the smaller Hornet Hub room “cozy.”
Denzin said she and her co-director are getting almost entirely positive feedback about the writing center, but they are taking all suggestions on board and will tweak and refine how the writing center functions over time. One goal Denzin has is to make the writing center its own school course, rather than just having it under the umbrella of “independent study.” She’d also like to expand the writing center idea to the middle school level.
“A lot of what we need to do here in this first year is just let students know it’s not scary,” Denzin said. “We’re helpful, and there’s not much judgment, just support.”