EmersonWRITES Helps High School Students Envision Attending College

Students in the classroom

Carole McFall
October 27, 2010

On October 23, while many high school students were sleeping late or hanging out with friends, more than 40 Boston Public High School students chose to attend the first session of EmersonWRITES, a new College initiative. The program offers a free five-week writing workshop to all Boston Public High School students and exposes them to a college campus experience.

Rubin Brenner, a sophomore at Boston Latin Academy, explained what motivated him to try EmersonWRITES: “I’m planning to go to college because I’d like to be a foreign correspondent one day.”

“He loves to write,” said Brenner’s mom, Katy. “His English teacher has really encouraged him to pursue writing.”

“Many times kids get hung up on grammar and spelling and are intimidated by the writing process. We want them to share their stories and enjoy the writing process, first and foremost. Then, they can improve by reviewing each other’s work and revising their own work.”

EmersonWRITES was conceived in the College’s Enrollment Office under the direction of Vice President Knoll Finn, and was developed by a small committee led by Mary Kovaleski Byrnes, an instructor in the First-Year Writing Program (FYWP) and Chris Grant, Assistant Director of Admission. The committee, which included Greg Nichols, an MFA candidate and FYWP instructor, and Tamera Marko, Acting Director of FYWP, interviewed and selected graduate student instructors to develop curriculum and teach the workshop sessions.

Paul Ryan is among 11 graduate students who are volunteering their time to teach for two hours each Saturday during the five-week program. Working in teams of two, the graduate students have 7 to 12 students in their classes. “I wanted to see what teaching would be like. Plus, it’s exciting to be part of something new and getting to form a program like this from the ground up,” said Ryan.

On the first day of class, Ryan and fellow graduate teacher Sarah Ehrich explained narrative storytelling; read and discussed stories; and reviewed the class syllabus with their students. They outlined that the students would be writing each week and also learning how to review and critique each other’s work.

Through a workshop-style setting, the goal of EmersonWRITES is to get high school students to envision themselves attending college by actually doing some college narrative writing and doing so inside a college setting. “I was a little intimidated coming in because it’s at a college,” said Ashley Cockrane, a junior at Dorchester Academy. “But, it was a good first day, I learned a lot, and I feel like I can do this.”

EmersonWRITES also aims to introduce parents and guardians to various college application processes. In a special orientation session for parents and guardians, MJ Knoll-Finn explained that the writing program’s focus was on form and knowing how to outline a story. “Many times kids get hung up on grammar and spelling and are intimidated by the writing process. We want them to share their stories and enjoy the writing process, first and foremost. Then, they can improve by reviewing each other’s work and revising their own work.” Knoll-Finn and Chris Grant also reviewed the college admission process and financial aid applications, as well as how to make sure their children were prepared for college by taking the required high school classes.

“I understand the way these students think. I was there so I see myself in them,” said Grant. “When I share my experience, I can tell that they’re surprised that this ‘old guy’ understands them.”

Louise Ngo Kon, whose family moved to Boston from Cameroon, Africa, where the primary language is French, was excited after the first day of class. “My English teacher thinks I have a great writing talent. I wasn’t sure at first when she told me about this program, but I’m definitely coming back next week.”

The first EmersonWRITES program will wrap up on Saturday, November 20. Plans are underway for a spring session to start in April.

For more information about EmersonWRITES, call 617-824-8444.

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