U Involved in Writing Program for Underprivileged Schools

The+J+Willard+Marriott+Library+on+the+University+of+Utah+campus+Monday%2C+September+14%2C+2015.%0A%28The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle+Archives%29

The J Willard Marriott Library on the University of Utah campus Monday, September 14, 2015. (The Daily Utah Chronicle Archives)

By Mandi Johansen

 

The University of Utah is involved with a relatively new program called Wasatch Writers in the Schools (WWitS). The program has received generous support from the Creative Writing and English Departments at the U, Utah Humanities and University Neighborhood Partners.

The program has two different branches: one for graduate students and one for undergraduate students. The graduate student branch of the program involves placing students into Title I public schools in Salt Lake County. This year, the students are working with Glendale Middle School and Bryant Middle School, although they “are always looking to expand” according to Michelle Donahue, who attends the U as a fourth-year Ph.D. student in creative writing. Donahue became involved with the program because “something academia rightly gets criticized for is being an ivory tower, and I’m always looking for ways to leave that tower and give back,” she said. “WWitS was such a perfect and fun way to do that.”

The undergraduate branch of the course is “more structured,” Donahue stated. Undergraduate students sign up for ENGL 5810 at the U, which is taught once a year by Donahue. The class is organized in a unique way so that students can be involved outside of the classroom as well. Donahue described the class structure by saying, “Once a week we meet at the U, and once a week we meet at Glendale Middle School where my undergraduate students take turns leading Parker Jackson’s eighth grade English classes. We’re working with about 55 students across 2 classes.”

Jackson, who also attends the U, is working on his MA in English in addition to teaching the classes the U students attend weekly. Jackson pointed out how inspiring it can be for middle school students to have college students in their classroom. He said, “Many of my students will be the first in their family to attend college, so it’s huge having a university student around to help with writing.” He also made it known how great of a job the U students are doing this year. When they come each Wednesday to help, “I usually just sit back and get out of the way because the U students are so involved,” Jackson said.

The U students also help the public school students create a writing portfolio. At the end of the year, the students will come to the U, receive a tour of campus, have a pizza party, receive certificates for participation in the program and some selected students will be able to read their work.

The WWitS program has many goals, but both Jackson and Donahue remarked that the main purpose was to give young writers a voice to be creative when they don’t have many outlets to do so. Donahue stated, “We’re also very much hoping to get the students excited about creative writing — to give them a venue to be creative, forge their own voices and express themselves.” They hope the program will encourage the students to continue writing in high school or college and that they will feel like they can belong at the U. “Simply, the goal is to help young writers find their voice and gain confidence in sharing it,” Jackson said.

The program also gives undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to gain teaching experience where many haven’t had the opportunity in this capacity or at all. “Many participants are looking to enter a career in teaching, or are interested in teaching in other service-learning programs in the future,” Donahue said.

One of the undergraduate students in the program is working with Donahue to expand the program so that undergraduates can participate out of class. Donahue said, “We’re hoping to establish a WWitS advisory board that helps place interested undergraduates in neighboring schools, so they can volunteer through this program.”

If you’re looking to get involved with the program, the best way is to contact [email protected], or if you’re an undergraduate, sign up for the ENGL 5810 class when it is offered.

[email protected]

@MandilynJohans1