Creative Writing Centers Cultivate Students’ Voices — But Need Funding to Pay Tutors

Creative Writing Centers Cultivate Students’ Voices -- But Need Funding to Pay Tutors

Corey Bass sits curled over a desk in the back of the room as a writing specialist guides him and a handful of other teenagers through a series of exercises.

A few jot down ideas. Others look at their phones, headphones in ear, scrolling through social media. When it’s time to share, Corey answers just above a whisper. “I put that I like to read and write.”

The sophomore is one of a small group of students in Crispus Attucks High School’s creative writing club, which operates out of the school’s new Vonnegut Youth Writing Center. The center, along with new programs at Arsenal Tech and George Washington high schools, largely replicates a long-standing writing center at Shortridge High School, according to Chalkbeat Indiana.

Together, the four writing centers partner with the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library to offer in-school tutoring, classroom support and creative writing opportunities with the help of four staff and 12 paid interns.

As Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) begin offering more classes for college credit, the writing centers are seen as a way to support teachers and students amid a collective push for more academically challenging coursework.

But with a major source of funding going away at the end of the year, leaders are looking for ways to continue paying the tutors who work with the students every day.

IPS first introduced writing centers across the district six years ago to help students prepare for college or career opportunities.

But many of the programs disappeared after a few years, Writing Center Coordinator Chris Speckman said, when grant funding ended. Only Shortridge held onto its center, he said, because administrators saw value in continued support for the school’s writing-heavy International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

IB is a challenging, college-focused academic program offered to IPS high schoolers only at Shortridge. Eighteen percent of Shortridge students received an A, B, or C on their rigorous IB extended essays in 2018. Five years later, as the writing center continued, that number was up to 64%.

At IPS’ largest high school, Arsenal Tech, the writing center, with its vast open floor plan and expansive mezzanine, frequently hosts class visits. An AP physics teacher, for example, might book the center so writing specialist Carrie Gaffney can work with students on scientific essays. Gaffney also organizes monthly meetings of 60 or so early college freshmen and sophomores to share advice for navigating their advanced classes. The center is looking to add math tutoring soon.

“In my experience, every kid that comes in here wants to do better,” Gaffney said. “They want to be taught, and they want to be successful.”

The writing centers can serve as a key resource for teachers who may not have the time or ability to work with students individually on a regular basis. Specialists see students of all different writing abilities and multiple interns tutor in other languages, extending support to students who speak Spanish, French and Yoruba.

The centers also provide a quiet space for students to study in a low-pressure environment where specialists treat students as peers. Because many of the Vonnegut interns are college students themselves, they can help answer questions and share their own examples of what to expect in college.

If Shortridge’s long-standing program is an example for how well others could do, Speckman said he expects to see growth in other high schools, too.

The centers have collectively seen 2,281 students between last August and January, accounting for about 41% of all IPS high schoolers, putting the centers well on their goal to see half of the high school student population by the end of the year.

Chalkbeat Indiana

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