Weekly Writing Workshop inspires local kids to pick up the pen

A student holds a notebook in their lap. The notebook displays a children's creative writing story with some doodles.
During Weekly Writing Workshops 5C students mentor children from neighboring areas and help them improve their writing abilities. (Chris Nardi • The Student Life)

Students fill up the desks of Pomona College’s Hahn Hall each day, ready to learn lessons and engage in discussion. When 4:30 p.m. comes around on Mondays, these desks continue to be filled, but by much smaller shoes, as the Weekly Writing Workshop commences.

In the Weekly Writing Workshop, also known as 3W, students from across the 5Cs gather to mentor young students and help them improve their writing abilities. Coming from neighboring areas like Upland, Pomona, Ontario or even right here in Claremont, these students participate every Monday from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

The mission of 3W is “to empower students from low-income communities by strengthening their technical writing skills and creative expression through in-depth, individualized feedback,” according to Voices, Pomona College’s student blog. Because many 3W students attend under-resourced schools, the program aims to provide them with the support and materials they would not otherwise receive.

3W is partnered with Uncommon Good, a nonprofit organization in Claremont. But besides check-ins with a representative of Uncommon Good, 3W is completely student-run, directed and organized. 

Each week’s workshop is split up into two groups — one group of fourth to sixth graders, and another group of seventh to ninth graders. Each age group has two coordinators who lead the workshop’s lessons, as well as five to six mentors. These mentors work closely with a smaller group of students, with usually around five students per mentor group, according to Catherine Mayer SC ’22, coordinator of the fourth to sixth grade group.

In a classic 3W day, Mayer said, the session begins by the mentors catching up and reconnecting with their students. The students are then given time to free write, participate in a workshop lesson and given a short break where they often run around or play soccer.

3W mentor Layla Elqutami PO ’22 expressed how tight-knit and fun-loving the relationship between mentors and students is and how it allows her to better communicate her lessons.

“It’s pretty rambunctious … we have that community when we’re playing Jeopardy and everyone is shouting the answers,” she said. “But I’m still able to meet with my students one-on-one and go over a grammar error or plot device.”

After releasing some energy, students return to their desks and begin to free write again.

Each semester, students are given a theme to focus their stories around. While the students wrote graphic novels last semester, mystery is the primary subject of 3W for this term.

Mayer discussed how a primary goal of 3W is to “cultivate an interest in writing … to show [students] that it can be fun and not just like boring essays.”

By designating creative themes like mystery each semester, 3W encourages students to both explore different genres of writing and focus on a common and cohesive style. 

The majority of 3W students come from first-generation households. Unlike high school tutoring workshops or adult-run tutoring sessions, 3W is unique in its college location.

Mayer notes how many of the students may not have had much exposure to a college classroom before. 

“Few of them have family members who have gone to college,” she said. 

By making college an everyday part of their lives from a young age, 3W hopes to show students that college is not a distant, romantic idea, but a tangible and very much possible future for them.

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A primary goal of 3W is to help students develop confidence in their writing skills. 

“A lot of them struggle with insecurity about their spelling, grammar, handwriting or just writing skills in general, which is very inhibitive,” Mayer said.

She further explained how students refused to take part out of fear of writing something bad. 

“For students who are struggling, [we strive] to get them over that so they can start to feel more comfortable,” she said. 

Mayer told a story of a “big victory” that happened during last week’s session.

There was this kid, Ryan, who, for all of last year and this semester, literally never wrote more than a sentence, really didn’t want to be there and really didn’t seem to care,” she said. “His mentor this semester talked to him everyday and kept asking him, ‘Why don’t you want to write?’” After encouragement from his mentor, Ryan went on to create a two-page story.

Mayer explained how gaining this student’s trust and developing his comfortability was the key to helping him overcome his mental block. By providing students with one-on-one support, attention and instruction, 3W aims to nurture faith in students for their own skills.

Elqutami reflected on how the talent of her students is often overlooked. 

“I feel like people underestimate kids and their ability to create fun stories and really good characters,” she said. 

By investing time in 3W, mentors like Elqutami hope to create an environment where students can form their voice, both on and off paper.

Many 3W students have experienced deportation within their immediate family, extended family or even in their own lives. For instance, Mayer recalled an experience that occurred during her first semester working with 3W.

“My first semester, one of my kids was writing a story about her best friend,” she said. “It was a fictional story, but it was about how her best friend was really sad because her mom has to go back [to Mexico].” 

After discussing the story further, the student soon revealed that the story was about another student in Mayer’s mentor group.

Throughout their process, 3W teaches students how to use their writing to work through their thoughts, emotions and experiences. Because 3W provides students with ample, concentrated free write time, many students can use workshop sessions as an opportunity to tell their own personal stories. 

Elqutami believes the Weekly Writing Workshop can teach both children and adults alike about the power of writing.

“The art of writing and literature is so much more of a valid medium than people realize,” she said. “There’s so much transmission of emotion and personal experience that you can put through even a mystery story.”

For more information on how to become involved in the Weekly Writing Workshop, students can visit 3W’s Facebook page.

For more information on how to become involved in the Weekly Writing Workshop, students can visit 3W’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/WeeklyWritingWorkshop/.

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