On January 21, 2010, the UCSB Writing Program welcomed 120 Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) students, their teachers, and several parents from RJ Frank Intermediate School in Oxnard, CA. Coordinated by the program’s “Writing Everywhere (WE) Collective,” the visitors were invited to campus for a celebration of a recent letter exchange project that introduced middle schoolers to current UCSB students. For the event, UCSB faculty members, students, and staff joined the guests for a dinner and discussion. Throughout the evening, the power of outreach to inspire passion and motivation was clear, as members of both communities connected by writing and speech.
RJ Frank students Alberto Vargas, Jesus Tejada, Juan Ayala, and Jacob Toledo
RJ Frank student Marissa Ramos
The Writing Everywhere (WE) Collective was formed in 2009 to help students see the importance of writing in everyday life—academically, socially, professionally, and creatively. Using the NCTE’s National Day of Writing as the focal point, WE visited RJ Frank in the fall and collaborated with the AVID instructors to lead students through a sequence of writing workshops. The middle school students wrote personal letters to UCSB students, introducing themselves and asking questions about college. Each letter was then given to a current UCSB student, who wrote back in a similar fashion. The process enabled students to write for real audiences, enlarging their perceptions of what counts as writing and providing them with opportunities to improve their writing skills.
The letter exchange was so successful that it continued with a second round of correspondence, and was featured on the NCTE’s National Day of Writing web gallery. The event celebrated the work and brought the students together to meet in person.
In addition to the dinner, and the opportunity for students and faculty to meet informally, the celebration featured a number of speakers on the topic of writing. Acting Writing Program Director Michael Petracca spoke with the students, as did UCSB students Breyanna Carter, David Campos, Jules Echeverria, and Natalie Behr. Most moving were presentations from the middle school students themselves, who read from their letters. Often personal, these honest and well-written pieces brought the evening’s message of “writing everywhere” to life. In addition, students gained valuable insights about college life and recognized their potential for success.
UCSB student Breyanna Carter
RJ Frank student Jordy Pineda
The letter exchange project was coordinated by Writing Program faculty Ilene Miele and Robert Krut with the assistance of RJ Frank AVID instructors Kristin Storey, Kim Haley, Elsa Lopez, and Barbara Aanerud; and UCSB writing faculty from the Academic Communities for Excellence (ACE) program: Craig Cotich, Chris Dean, Jennifer Johnson, and Roy Vallis. The ACE Program, which was a recent recipient of the prestigious Vella Award, was a natural fit for the project, as it aims to enhance the college experience by providing support and guidance for its students.
The next stage of the Writing Everywhere Collective is a web site, funded by a mini grant from the Office of Academic Preparation awarded to Miele, Krut, and prime investigator Associate Professor Karen Lunsford. The site will include not only student writing, but also links useful to both secondary and college students alike.