Writing Program Hosts Annual Letter Exchange

On November 18, the fifth annual Writing Program Outreach Committee’s letter exchange project culminated in an on-campus event.  Over 100 middle school students from RJ Frank joined UCSB students and faculty in Corwin Pavilion for a celebration of writing.

The letter exchange project pairs Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) students from RJ Frank Intermediate School in Oxnard with current UCSB students.  Throughout the Fall quarter, the AVID students exchange letters with students in Academic Communities for Excellence (ACE) writing classes as part of a program designed improve writing skills, enlarge perceptions about what counts as writing, and encourage academic achievement. This year, the letter exchange began with a visit at RJ Frank by UCSB writing faculty Jennifer Johnson and Nicole Warwick, who guided the middle school students through the writing process, welcoming them to the project.

The dinner event was both a celebration of writing and an opportunity for students and faculty to meet and to learn from one another. The event featured a number of speakers including Writing Program Director Linda Adler-Kassner and UCSB student Diana Torres-Luevanos. In a passionate speech about the power of writing, she explained: “Writing is important to me because it allowed me to find my voice. Six years ago I wouldn’t be able to address you all the way I am now. Writing was the first step that gave me power and confidence. I believe it can help you too, no matter your situation.”

The grand finale was a series of readings from several letter-writing pairs, who generously shared their work with the audience. The letters were at times amusing, at other times poignant but--most importantly--honest, and made clear the connections that had been established between the two groups. Through their writing and conversation over dinner, students were able to ask questions, express their hopes and fears, gain valuable insights about college life, and recognize their potential for success.

The letter exchange project was coordinated by Writing Program faculty Robert Krut and Ilene Miele with the assistance of RJ Frank AVID instructors Kristin Storey, Josie Byrnes, and Claudia Pantoja. UCSB writing faculty Craig Cotich, Chris Dean, Jennifer Johnson, Leslie Hammer, Ilene Miele, Kathy Patterson and Dan Wuebben provided the UCSB letter writers.  The campus event also received valuable assistance from Caren Converse, Karen Lunsford, and Nicole Warwick.

The event was funded by the Writing Program and Office of Education Partnerships.  Outside of California, the project has been featured in panel presentations at the Conference on College Composition and Communication and, most recently, the National Council of Teachers of English conference.