The Weekly Writing Workshop (3W) is tapping into the power of stories, using both heroes and villians to pump life back into creative writing for students. The 3W mentors are redefining how local underprivileged students can communicate their narratives—both personal and imaginary.
3W matches 5C student mentors to elementary and high school students in the area. The program is run through Uncommon Good, a Claremont-based nonprofit organization whose mission is “to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and to work for the restoration of our planet … by helping underprivileged children succeed in school and go to college.”
While the program has been running at the 5Cs for several semesters, drastic changes are being made to the curriculum for the eighth- and ninth-grade mentees this semester.
Salvador Adame (left) and Madeleine Duran, local fi fth graders, learn about myths in different cultures around the world at the Weekly Writing Workshop. • Alex Smith
In the past, the program was structured around rote learning, explains Laurel Hilliker PO ’17, one of the coordinators for the eighth- and ninth-grade classes. Tests and quizzes were a way of measuring learning, which made the program resemble a school day. But the classes weren’t dynamic. Feather Flores PO ’17, another coordinator, described the lectures as “rigid” and “compartmentalized.” Partipants and coordinators are now aiming to change this.
Before, there was a large emphasis on writing for the literary magazine that the students would produce at the end of the semester, but this made the class very production-based. Rather than mimicking school, the coordinators want to foster a learning environment where students can engage with their identity, shifting the emphasis toward discussions more personal to the students.
The theme for the eighth- and ninth-grade fall semester class is “Heroes and Villains,” a theme Hilliker and Flores chose because it was broad enough to apply to different topics in class, including communities, maps and identity building.
“It’s easy for the student to understand,” Flores said. “They come into class with preconceived notions about what makes a hero or villain, and then we can complicate that.”
The classes have been redesigned to allow the students a chance to write about the world around them and to explore their self-identity. For example, in last week’s class, students wrote a short play and then performed it for their peers.
Hilliker and Flores are also making an effort to bring the importance of reading to the forefront. On the first day of 3W this semester, the class went to the Claremont Library and mentees were given library card forms to fill out and return. The idea is to allow students easy access to books before or after 3W each week. Students were also encouraged to bring books to class each week, and time is set aside at the beginning to class for a free read.
Books were never previously a structured part of the 3W curriculum, but Hilliker and Flores wanted to emphasize that reading is conducive to writing. Mentees’ parents also expressed a desire for more reading built into the curriculum.
The classes have even undergone changes on the most basic, physical level. First, the classes are split into three age groups rather than two, allowing for smaller class sizes and more individualization. The classroom has been rearranged to bring the desks closer to the front, set in a wide semicircle, to make for easier movement through the class. Hilliker mentioned this change as an effort to alleviate “formality of space” and create a more relaxed environment.
These changes cannot be properly evaluated until the end of the semester, but there are still further changes that need to be addressed, such as recruitment. The program relies on Uncommon Good and word-of-mouth to recruit students, and the students who are chosen are not necessarily the students who need the program the most.
The students who encounter the program, despite being low-income, are generally more socially advantaged and have higher GPAs in school. There is also limited contact with parents, and often there is a language barrier when communicating with the families of students.
But for now, both mentees and mentors are excited by the changes that have already been made. The lessons are now built on creativity, mentor-mentee relationships and interactive learning.
Both Hilliker and Flores are excited about the new program, and Flores explains, “We just want [the students] to know how important what they’re doing is.”