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A Special Place To Write

In Program At High School Tutors Lend A Hand To Peers

March 26, 2005

With University of Connecticut tutor Kofi Ayisi at his side, Enrique Fernandez began revising his poem about basketball in The Writing Room at Hartford Public High School.

Enrique, 15, a freshman at Hartford Public, nodded as Kofi, 18, a UConn freshman from Bridgeport, reminded him to add quotation marks. Then he searched the Internet for music by The Game, hoping his favorite rapper could inspire new rhythm for his verse.

Tucked within the Career Services Office at Hartford Public, The Writing Room is a place where high school and college students meet to talk and improve their writing. UConn students, who are enrolled in a tutoring practicum at the university this semester, began training a group of Hartford Public students to be writing tutors for their peers in January.

Now, two afternoons each week, the center is bustling with students helping students, writing poetry or essays or letters to the editor. The younger students stop in after track practice or before dance class, for pizza and cookies and help with homework. Or, like junior Dajemi Rodriguez, 17, one of the Hartford Public tutors, they come simply because they love to write.

Dajemi said working with her fellow students was kind of hard and awkward at first. "But I get them to open up and tell me what they have to write. Sometimes I help them change the wording or rearrange their sentences."

Hartford Public tutor, junior Sofia Medina, 16, said the UConn tutors taught them how to help students without dictating to them what they have to write.

Freshman Demitri Lucy, 15, one of several players from the freshman basketball team who come to The Writing Room, said it's been a great place for help with his class work.

"The tutors taught me to make an outline before I start writing, and then to pick my best ideas," Demitri said.

He especially liked writing an essay about becoming an NBA player after high school.

"The Writing Room has been a huge collaboration between people at UConn and Hartford Public. We really want this to be permanent," said Nina Condren, 20, a 2002 graduate of Hartford Public who is the UConn student director for The Writing Room. Co-director Laurie Cella teaches the tutoring practicum and is a UConn graduate student working toward her doctorate in English.

"Both Nina and Laurie were passionate about starting this writing center," said Hartford Public English teacher Gary Lotreck. "They recruited the tutors, and talked to coaches and teachers to encourage the students to come.

"They're fostering the joy of writing. ... It's very exciting and positive for Hartford Public."

Principal Mark Zito said The Writing Room has been "a fantastic addition" to the high school.

"It's needed, too. The kids need to be able to write effectively before they go to college," Zito said. "Clear writing is indicative of clear thinking."

Results from the 2003-04 Connecticut Academic Performance Test show that only 17.3 percent of Hartford Public's sophomores met the state goal on the writing portion of the test, whereas 25.6 percent of sophomores at schools within similar cities and 53.7 percent statewide met the writing goal that school year.

In addition to working with the high school students as writing tutors, the UConn students have benefited from being invited to team-teach lessons in several classrooms. Melissa Rinaldo, 21, a junior from Coventry, created a lesson on leadership for a freshman class, which included a lot of writing.

"The students seemed excited that we were there," Rinaldo said. "I want to be a teacher, so it was a good experience." She added that going into the classroom also helped her attract new students to The Writing Room.

Cella said one of their goals is to get Hartford Public teachers more involved with The Writing Room. "We want to show them what the possibilities are," she said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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