Young Writers Program Engages Multilingual Learners

In recognition of Multilingual Learner Advocacy Month, we are posting a series of articles highlighting programs in Santa Cruz County that illustrate the guiding principles of California’s English Learner Roadmap.  

B40 Middle School - Young Writers Program students

This article focuses on Principle One: Assets-Oriented and Needs-Responsive Schools. All students need multiple charging points—times and places to learn—and an abundance of such opportunities to continue their learning in ways that affirm their strengths and identities is essential to supporting multilingual students in reaching their full potential as members of our community.  The Young Writers Program (YWP) represents one of many non-profits that partner with our local schools to enrich students’ lives.

Principle One: Assets-Oriented and Needs-Responsive Schools. Pre-schools and schools are responsive to different English learner (EL) strengths, needs, and identities and support the socio-emotional health and development of English learners. Programs value and build upon the cultural and linguistic assets students bring to their education in safe and affirming school climates. Educators value and build strong family, community, and school partnerships.

Founded in 2012, the non-profit Young Writers Program (YWP) has supported over two thousand Santa Cruz County public school students in grades 4-12 in becoming published authors. Students work with trained writing mentors (Writing Project Assistants) to develop and craft their writing over a 6-8 week period. Writing is then gathered, lightly edited, and produced in professionally designed publications, which are sold at local bookshops.

“The YWP gives students opportunities for self-expression they may not have in their other academic writing,” said Julia Chiapella, Young Writers Program Executive Director.  “Writing in which they are personally invested gives them a sense of pride,” says Julia. “And when students have a writing mentor beside them listening to what they have to say, they’re encouraged. Feedback is immediate, positive, and extends their thinking. And publication is an incentive for revision.”

Since 2015, the Young Writers Program has been collaborating with the Museo Eduardo Carrillo in using contemporary Latinx artwork to inspire students in writing personal narratives.  They were recently awarded the 2018 Superintendent’s Award for Excellence in Museum Education for the Creating Bridges: Using Latinx Art to Inspire Personal Narratives Curriculum. The state-wide award recognizes outstanding achievements in California museum programs that serve K-12 students and/or educators.  Curriculum author Wendy Wesch Thompson, an eighth grade teacher at Branciforte Middle School, will be using the curriculum with her own students in fall 2018.

Hablamos Juntos Books

The Hablamos Juntos project began with students enrolled in teacher Robyn Miranda’s Sheltered English 1 class at Soquel High. The resulting student writing was published as The Art of Who I Am, a full-color publication featuring art from the Museo Eduardo Carrillo collection accompanied by student writing inspired by the art.  Other titles in the Hablamos Juntos series include:  Hablamos Juntos: Together We Speak written by Renaissance High teacher Lynn Clausen’s students and Hablamos Juntos: Pictures and Words by the students of Sharon Mullowney at Costanoa High.  Rosa Luna’s students at E.A. Hall Middle School created a bilingual book, The Story of in Art/La historia en el arte. They were the first middle school students to be involved, but Branciforte Middle School students will be embarking on their own Hablamos Juntos journey soon.  In a testament to the power of this kind of project to inspire, one of the Hablamos Juntos student authors reflected, “We accomplished so much with these stories.  When we saw our final stories, we realized how good they were. With these stories, we painted pictures using only words.”  The Hablamos Juntos project enables students to embrace their identity as Latinx youth and to develop that identity as authors.

Such projects have the ability to transform students.  Teacher Wendy Thompson reflected on the Young Writer Program’s impact at Branciforte Middle School:  “The eighth grade Cornerstone Program has become an institution at our school. Students look forward to this project and are excited about being published in a book. Over 150 student voices are represented in the publication. Student attitudes about writing are often profoundly changed through this program.”

In addition to partnering with teachers in the classrooms, in 2016 the Young Writers Program established The Word Lab, located in the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. This after-school writing program devoted to students in the Santa Cruz City Schools, offers a curriculum for young writers, and volunteers assist students on original and engaging writing projects. It’s another example of the power of multiple charging points that enable students to continue their learning outside the school setting.

The Creating Bridges curriculum is available to educators at no cost.