Rationale for Writing for Change Summer Camp at a School Site
The San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) has hosted a very successful writing camp on the University of California San Diego campus for many years. In searching for ways to diversify the students who could attend, SDAWP attempted many recruitment strategies with limited success. The leadership team studied the issue, and decided that it was time to try something new. We decided to move the summer writing camp off campus and into a school.
This was SDAWP’s first effort to bring that summer writing experience from the college campus to a school site. We wanted to do more than just provide a satellite program; we wanted to create something new and enticing for kids in their own urban neighborhood. We knew that in attracting new students, we would need a new program. What better way to bring a summer writing academy to urban kids than to bring the academy to them? Why couldn’t we use what students know and love to teach them how to write to inspire others and change their world?
When we first came up with the concept of Writing for Change, our focus was on social justice and the empowerment of students to have a voice. We decided that in the camp we would use the technology available in the school itself. The value of using the technology available at the neighborhood school site allowed us to focus on using it in new and meaningful ways, rather than introducing new technology that students wouldn’t have access to in the fall. Our question at the end of this program was, “Would students and teachers continue to use these tools and strategies into the school year, and what form might that take?”
Our decision proved to be right on the mark. Students who attended the summer program reported back that they continue to write and use the technology tools and skills they learned this past summer. Teachers found creative ways to incorporate this work within the constraints of district-mandated pacing guides, assessments and core curriculum. Assessments now provide a variety of options that include the use of technology to demonstrate mastery or respond to a writing prompt. Students now tell their stories digitally, use technology to research facts and create visual maps of their thinking. Departments and teams are feeling the ripple effect of the work, intentionally and exponentially growing across the site.
At Cajon Valley Middle School there is now a “Writing for Change” after school club. There is now a place on campus where students feel a sense of ownership over their work. They truly are allowed to explore topics of interest. Some students are coming to write fiction together, others are teaming up to write about social issues of importance to them, such as animal rights and graffiti in the neighborhood. Students and teachers are working together to continue the creative work from the summer. Three teachers are volunteering their time and talents to come to the lab and work with students on their self-selected projects two to three days per week. The motivation is not remediation or extra credit, but simply the value of the work that students and teachers want to do. Our hope is to find funding to expand the program this coming summer throughout the entire school district, maintaining our ideal to empower students, one page at a time.