Writing Center Spotlight: Hawk Writing Center

Social media: Twitter @HSWritingCenter ; Blog
Director: Stephanie Passino; @Ms_Passino

Hayfield Secondary School is home to almost 3,000 7th-12th grade students. It is a very diverse school located in Alexandria, VA in Fairfax County. Our writing center is made up of 36 students this year; 14 second year tutors and 22 first year tutors. Our center primarily functions during the school day (lunch periods) and was established in 2013.

What makes our center unique is the fact that we can support 7th-12th grade students during the school day. Since we are a secondary school, we have the opportunity to support our younger writers and show them that the writing is not only a process but that it should be collaborative. We’ve also worked very hard to make our center reflect our school’s population in terms of students gender, race, grade level, etc.

Our center supports all subject areas, but we primarily work with history and English classes (most likely because those classes assign the most writing). We’ve hosted several workshops (college essay workshops, SOL writing workshops, science fair writing workshops) over the years. To make these workshops so successful, we typically co-host them with the Career Center or honor societies. We have also been supporting the 5th graders at the elementary school across the street. This outreach program takes place twice a week during our class. Tutors work with the elementary school students on various writing skills.

Our writing center is a part of the Advanced Composition class. We are on a block scheduled, so the class is held during 5th and 6th period (2 sections), our lunch periods. In order to be a tutor, students must take the class. Students can take the course for three years and earn 3 years worth of elective credits.

Within each class period, there is a student who serves as our Writing Center Recruitment Chair. This student works closely with me to come up with new ways to advertise our class and incite students to become tutors. To recruit, we generally hold a meeting after school and present at our electives fair. I also ask all of the English teachers for students they would recommend for the program. Once I get their names, I’ll send them a letter to let them know that they were recommended for the class because of their writing skills and leadership abilities. This recruitment strategy has worked well in the past, but we are always looking for new ideas. With required courses such as Personal Finance and gym, students often have limited space for electives in their rigorous schedules.

WIthin our center we have committees and leadership roles. The leadership roles include: Tutor Manager, Tutor Manager Apprentice, Statistical Analyst, Event Organizer, Outreach Coordinator, and Recruitment Chair. Students apply for these positions. Each class typically ends up with 2-3 tutor managers. These roles have different responsibilities. The descriptions are included in one of the handouts. Each class also has designated committees. The goal of the committees is to delegate work and tasks for major projects (workshops, fundraisers, etc.) The committees are as follows: Teacher Relations, Student Relations, Media & Marketing, Technology & Communication, Fundraising, and Event Liaison. These roles and committees have been modified/adapted from the roles Centreville High School used in 2012.

My proudest accomplishment is building our center from the ground up. I developed an interest in the high school writing center while student teaching at Centreville High School. My advising teacher, Alison Hughes, was the director, and she inspired me to create a center that fosters creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking.

I’ve designed/adapted the majority of the assignments in Advanced Composition to align with Kelly Gallagher’s, Write Like This, text. He advises that students practice writing for “real-world” purposes. Students focus on a particular form, audience, and purpose with each writing task.Tutors go through the writing process just like the tutees that come to the center. The tutors continuously get tutored to reinforce good tutoring practices and to learn new techniques. In our center we use the principles and practices from The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors to train our new tutors. After reading several chapters of the text, tutors role-play scenarios, participate in small group discussions, and reflect on their new take-aways through writing.

Our Mission Statement: “The Hawk Writing Center seeks to provide students with quality assistance through peer tutoring. We aim to foster the growth of writing skills within our community through active collaboration in a positive environment where creativity is encouraged.” Our class created this statement in 2015.

I’m hoping to refine the mentor-mentee program our center has adapted over the past two years. I don’t think I use the experience and skills of our 2nd year tutors as much as I could when training the new tutors.

As a CAPTA member school, our writing center has all of the resources to reach out to other centers, but we haven’t quite made this happen. We attend the CAPTA conferences, a few tutors joined a CAPTA tutor get-together in the fall, and are going to the retreat this summer, but our outreach with other centers generally ends at this point. My goal for this year will be for our tutors to visit at least one other writing center.

Workshop with an ESOL class – students were brainstorming and organizing ideas for a Hero Essay.

Tutors delivering “Good Luck” smarties to our 8th and 11th grades classes before the Writing SOL.

Tutor Training – Discussing the types of “hats” tutors wear during a session.

2nd year tutor presenting the basics of the college essay at our annual College Essay Workshop.