Coach Reginald James (left) and student Vanessa Williams.
WriterCoach Connection is an East Bay organization that trains and places volunteers in classrooms, where they give students the one-on-one support they need to become effective writers.
WriterCoach Connection currently works with 12 public schools in four school districts, West Contra Costa, Oakland, Berkeley and Albany. The program focuses on serving students in underserved public schools.
Run by an umbrella non- profit group called the Community Alliance for Learning, WriterCoach Connection was started in 2000 by parents in Berkeley who were unhappy their children were not learning to express themselves well in writing.
They decided to take this matter into their own hands and formed WriterCoach Connection, modeled after a similar program they observed in Montclair, NJ called The Writer’s Room.
A key part of the program is the training that volunteers receive before they become classroom coaches. To be a coach you must attend two three-hour training sessions, according to Executive Director Robert Menzimer.
“A lot of people believe they can’t coach because they don’t think they are not good enough writers,” he said. “But our training sessions are structured so that the volunteer knows exactly what to do not matter what part of an assignment the student is on and no matter how well they can write.”
When the program first started, it only had 35 coaches and 180 students. Now, WriterCoach Connection has 530 coaches and tutors 2,037 students. This past school year there were 14,929 individual coaching sessions.
“We try to match up the same coaches with the same students throughout the whole year. The relationship that develops between the student and coach is the key to the program’s success,” said Menzimer.
Each coach tutors a student for 8-14 sessions during the school year .
Another important part of the program is that it provides coaches to every student in a classroom, not only those who are identified as needing help. Not labeled as remedial, students tend to look forward to the meetings with supportive adults.
The program has a track record of producing results, producing a huge impact on the students’ SAT scores and overall school performance, Menzimer said.
“Writing is a key 21st Century life skill. Students have to know how to write effectively before they leave high school,” he said.
California State Universities have reported that 50 percent of their incoming students are not equipped for college level writing. Most colleges place ill prepared freshman students into remedial writing classes so they can catch up.
The volunteers at WriterCoach Connection always walk into a classroom with a sense of purpose, Menzimer explained. “We are building confidence in these kids so they know that they can do this. Writing can be very daunting,” he said.
“We want these students to know that writing is a craft not a mystery,” he said. “Anyone can learn to do it well.”
To find out how to become a volunteer or to make a donation, visit the web at Writercoachconnection.org.