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Rising Writers: Working together expands love of writing in high school and elementary school students

I wanted to take the student mentor experience and apply the idea to those struggling with writing in elementary schools when students learn the fundamentals, but also tend to develop a like or dislike of writing.

Two years ago the Rising Writers was just an idea, based upon an experience that I had in middle school and a trend I noticed among my classmates in that many did not feel comfortable, or enjoy, writing. I had the chance to work with a college student on my writing with a small group of students who actively enjoyed writing. However, I wanted to take the student mentor experience and apply the idea to those struggling with writing in elementary schools when students learn the fundamentals, but also tend to develop a like or dislike of writing. Now with groups in four schools, Rising Writers has evolved into a consistent, ongoing program that supports students in writing and provides a strong high school role model for them throughout one or two years.

The Rising Writers program was created during the 2013-14 school year to provide elementary school students with an opportunity to further develop their writing through small groups with high school students leading the way. Our initial group was at Northside Elementary, under the guidance of Reading Specialist Maggie Heath-Compos. We began with six fourth graders, each at different levels in their writing abilities. Throughout the year they grew into confident writers, more willing to share their efforts out-loud and excited by the challenge of new and difficult techniques.

During the 2014-2015 school year, the program expanded to three other elementary schools in the Chapel Hill- Carrboro City School District. We now have groups in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classrooms. There is constant collaboration among the facilitators in an attempt to create the best experience possible for the children. There are a few large check-ins throughout the year, but each leader is given the freedom to instruct their students how they see fit.

These groups allow for a tight community to be built, while supporting and reinforcing the writing standards being taught in their classes. High school students, in turn, get the chance to lead and inspire younger students to realize the importance and relevance of writing.

Meeting once a week at 7:30am before the school day begins, students engage in activities ranging from games to prompts to long-term projects. With a small number of writers, we are able to focus on what is needed for each person. In my particular group, we emphasized persuasive writing, inferences, and personal narrative.

For example, my 5th grade group was working on similes and metaphors. To support their learning, we created a game where they pulled an object out of a bag and had to compare it to other items in the room using a simile or metaphor. When the students were struggling with the difference between there, their, and they’re, we used a game to apply and practice the different uses of the word. When focusing on persuasive writing students were instructed to write a letter to their parents to attempt to persuade them to give them something that they had always wanted. Our weekly meetings were not only instructional, but also fun and engaging.

Beginning in February each group starts their end-of-year project. This year most created an All About Me book, which they worked on until mid-May. Every week they picked up where they left off, each writing about their own personal experiences. They worked at their own pace and utilized peer-editing as they complete their projects. The book introduced the students to the review process, the effects of good paragraph structure, and, more importantly, the ability to make their work reflect themselves.

The Rising Writers gives students a place to grow as not only writers, but as individuals as well.

The Rising Writers gives students a place to grow as not only writers, but as individuals as well. Each student that I got the chance to work with had completely different interests, ranging from reptiles to football to reading. They tied their own passions into their stories, and taught each other about what they liked through their work. They saw how influential their thoughts and ideas can be, and they inspired each other to look deeper as they wrote. Group leader Alexandra Barfield from Chapel Hill High School enjoyed watching her students grow, stating, “When we started they wouldn’t really write much with the creative prompts we’d give them, but by the end we couldn’t get them to stop writing! I think most of them started to like writing a lot more by the end.”

Throughout the last two years I have gotten the chance to see students who were once scared to even read their stories out loud flourish into strong and confident writers. Going to work with these dedicated kids is the highlight of my week during the school year, and I am so impressed by all that they are able to accomplish.

Marin Wolf

Marin Wolf is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill majoring in journalism and peace, war and defense with a certificate in business journalism. She is a senior writer on The Daily Tar Heel’s city desk covering economic disparities and has also worked on the paper’s investigations team. She previously interned at Bloomberg News, EducationNC, and Chapel Hill Magazine.