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At new writing center, Charlestown students find their voice on paper

Posted by Sara Brown  November 8, 2010 01:07 PM

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Sara Brown for Boston.com


Charlestown High senior Naysha Murillo reads her thoughts about writing, as classmates Tony Trung and Ishmeial Bell look on.

“We write for what we cannot speak,” said Tony Trung, a Charlestown High School senior, reading aloud words he wrote in Kati Delahanty's humanities class.

His words were absorbed by Trung's classmates and his teacher, as well as an assortment of people who filled a spacious room on the fourth floor of the high school. Starting today, the room is the high school's writing center, a place where Trung and his classmates can work on their writing during one-on-one tutoring with college students.

Those on hand at Friday morning's opening reception represented the groups that helped make the writing center a reality. It is the product of a partnership between Charlestown High, University of Massachusetts Boston, the Boston Writing Project, and the Calderwood Foundation.

The project has taken off with the help of Delahanty, who is the center's coordinator. Last January, Delahanty approached Charlestown Headmaster Ranny Bledsoe about the idea of starting a writing center. Bledsoe gave her the go-ahead to pursue the idea.

In a case of fortuitous timing, Dr. Denise Patmon, an associate professor of education at UMass-Boston, was working with the Calderwood Foundation to create writing centers in Boston Public Schools.

Patmon had local schools compete to participate in the program to ensure support from the school and staff.

The program is an example of “an urban college recognizing its commitment to the community,” said Dr. Stephen Gordon, one of the grant co-coordinators for the Calderwood foundation.

Charlestown applied for the competitive program, and was one of two Boston area schools chosen for the roughly $100,000 grant. The other writing center was opened about two weeks ago at Another Course to College in Brighton.

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Sara Brown for Boston.com


With student Laurent Bennet sketching the Boston skyline in the background, Octavia Nixon, Dr. Denise Patmon, Elizabeth Glenn Mitchell, Director of Boston Writing Project, Jenny Desai with the Calderwood Foundation, Headmaster Ranny Bledsoe, and Kati Delahanty listen to students read.

At the writing center, students can bring in any writing from class assignments to college application essays, for private tutoring with paid, trained UMass-Boston grad students.

Beyond one-on-one tutoring, tutors will also go into classrooms and lead workshops, Delahanty said.

With some Charlestown classrooms having more than 30 students, the writing center is “a way to have the one-on-one support that’s really hard to get in the classroom,” she said.

“There is such a need for this, and such a love for this,” said Delahanty, who has taught at the high school for six years. The hope for the center, she said, is to eventually have students tutor their peers.

At the reception, seven Charlestown students inaugurated the space by sharing their own thoughts about writing.

With some students rushing off to physics class—Delahanty implored them to grab something to eat before they left—others stayed behind to read their thoughts, which Delahanty said they wrote in about 10 minutes.

“It’s kinda cool to actually have you guys care about what we put on a piece of paper,” Naysha Murillo said before reading her piece about letting her pen do the talking.

“I’m going to be here, fact,” Murillo said later. Writing is just something she’s good at, Murillo added. “When I’m mad, I write.”

The writing center will give students a chance to jot down their thoughts into “one big voice,” said Ishmeial Bell. As for writing, “I’m enjoying it.”

UMass Boston students earned tutor positions with applications that required high GPAs and writing samples. Three tutors will be assigned to Charlestown so they can create ongoing relationships with students, Patmon said.

The experience will help the tutors themselves with writing and teaching skills, she added. “It’s win-win and a learning situation for us all,” she said.

Tutor Octavia Nixon is also a Charlestown alumna; she graduated from the school in 2005 and played on the basketball team.

Friday, Nixon spoke about how a 10th grade writing class helped her cope with her grandmother’s death.

Holding up the blue journal in which she shared her thoughts, and a framed picture of her grandmother, Nixon said she had high hopes for the writing center, which will “awaken a sense of power...for students at Charlestown High School.”

Nixon, who wants to be a high school English teacher, will tutor at the writing center Mondays and Thursdays, and she will also sit in on classes at the school. Nixon will “help students create writing strategies,” she said.

“[The students] have a lot to say,” she said, but sometimes, they’re “not sure how to say it.”

For interested Charlestown students, the center is open Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, with hours varying day by day. E-mail the writing center to make an appointment at chswritingcenter@gmail.com

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