By Matt Larson
WriterCoach Connection believes that critical thinking and clear writing skills are essential for a young person to succeed in school, and far beyond. Established at Berkeley High School in 2001, WriterCoach Connection (WCC) has since been providing trained, volunteer writing coaches to middle schools and high schools in the East Bay.
Today, WCC collaborates with 10 schools, many of which are here in West Contra Costa County. Now coaching in El Sobrante, Richmond, El Cerrito, Albany, Berkeley, and Oakland, WCC provides more than 350 community volunteers every year to help students think more critically and write more skillfully.
“Our vision is that all students discover the power and richness of their own voices, and learn to communicate their ideas with clarity and confidence,” said WCC Board Chair Maureen Dixon. “We bring trained, caring adults into the classrooms to sit one-on-one, or in a very small group of students,” she added. “Every student in the classroom gets a writing coach, eliminating any kind of stigma or preferential treatment.”
After 18 years since the first session, WCC has now coached more than 33,500 students. “Students love it!” Maureen exclaimed. “Even students that are a little bit hesitant at first … to have an adult who is sincerely interested in what they have to say, and will help them to the best of their ability—they’ll respond,” she continued. “We’ve had students say, ‘You’re like a second parent to me;’ ‘You help me write a much better essay;’ and one student even said, ‘Dude, you should be an app.’”
The students approve, and the teachers have given some great feedback as well. “Teachers have told us they can give out twice as many writing assignments thanks to our coaching sessions,” Maureen recounted. “They’ve said students’ grades have gone up, in some instances. And one teacher said it’s like having ’30 of me’ in the classroom.”
WCC conducted an assessment to get a tangible measure of their success, and found that an average of 76% of the students in their coaching sessions have improved their writing proficiency. With a statistic like that, you may be surprised to hear that WCC only conducts 10-12 coaching sessions throughout the school year or semester, and the sessions are often only a half-hour long. They also make sure that the same coaches and students work together in all the sessions in order to build trust and rapport between them.
“The West Contra Costa Unified School District, and the schools, have been very supportive of WriterCoach Connection since we began coaching there in 2011,” Maureen said. Currently their WCCUSD schools include Richmond High School, El Cerrito High School, Crespi Middle School, Korematsu Middle School, and Kennedy High School. If they’re not at your (or, your child’s) school, talk with the PTA to see if it’s possible, and then see the contact info below.
In addition to support from the schools, it is support from the community and foundations that keep WCC going strong. Donations and volunteers are everything, fortunately we live in a community that values such a tremendous service. If you’d like to become a coach yourself, apply! “What qualifies a person to help the kids is: an enjoyment of teenagers, and an enjoyment of the writing process,” Maureen said, and assured us that you needn’t be a professional writer or retired educator. “We offer free training to all of our coaches, and practice before they go into the classroom.”
To donate, become a writing coach, and to learn more about WCC, head to writercoachconnection.org or call (510) 858-7108. This is a great 501(c)(3) nonprofit to invest your time and money with. As one teacher from El Cerrito High put it: “Students that don’t turn in anything else will turn in their writer-coach assignments.”