BHS Writes

Putting writing at the center of the BHS culture.

Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh

Currently over 300 students (Semester 1) / Over 600 students (Writing Center) / 18 teachers / 30 student writing coaches

Launched in 2010, this program makes writing central to the culture of BHS by focusing on both students and faculty as active and evolving writers. The program offers teachers across all disciplines the incentive and the support to reflect on their own experience as educators and to publish their writing. The Writing Center provides peer support for less confident student writers through a student-staffed writing center (the student version of Teachers Mentoring Teachers).

BHS Writes is oriented around three core goals:

  1. Nurture a writing culture at BHS that reaches all levels of its community — students and staff alike.
  2. Encourage BHS educators to write and publish their stories and to support them in doing so.
  3. Identify students in the school who are adept writers and train them to be compassionate and effective coaches for other students who are less confident as writers.

Why This Program is so Important for Brookline Students
The College Board’s National Commission on Writing has acknowledged the widespread and pressing need to create stronger culture of writing in American schools. The Commission’s 2003 report asserts, “American education will never realize its potential as an engine of opportunity and economic growth until a writing revolution puts language and communication in the proper place in the classroom.” The report observes that the “always time-consuming” process of writing — both the teaching and the practice of it — has become “increasingly shortchanged throughout the school and college years in America. … Of the three ‘R’s, writing is clearly the most neglected.” We are in the Information Age, and in this complex, “high-technology world,” writing is no longer strictly “thought on the page”; it is also “thought on the screen.” Yet even in this text-saturated culture of the twenty-first century, writing “whether on paper or on screen, … is an overlooked key to transforming learning in the United States.”

To address this problem, writing centers and Writing Fellows programs have been established at many schools, particularly at the university level: Brown University, Barnard College, Boston College, Brigham Young, California State Universities, CUNY schools, Lafayette College, Providence College, Swarthmore, Texas A & M, and Tufts University, to name just few. The principle behind these initiatives is that “Writers at all levels benefit from good feedback, and that’s why the Writing Fellows Program recruits undergraduate students to work with their peers in courses across the curriculum. Writing Fellows are chosen for their strength as writers and their interest in helping others to improve their writing… Writing Fellows do not grade papers. As peers, Fellows serve as sympathetic readers, providing informed, constructive criticism directed toward the argumentation, analysis, organization, clarity and style of papers. Writing Fellows work in a spirit of collegiality, helping to extend intellectual discourse beyond the classroom. Mutually engaged, Fellows and Fellows ultimately do more than focus on writing; they shape their own and each other’s education.” (www.brown.edu/Student_Services/Writing_Fellows).

At the high school level, writing centers and Writing Fellows programs have not been so widely or successfully established, largely because of schedule and budget limitations. Some public school ventures have taken root: Mountain Valley High School in Rumford, Maine, and Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, Illinois, have both established writing centers that use peer tutors. Locally, Newton North High School has instituted a writing center, which was originally staffed by teaching aides. Budget cuts, which tightened staffing, required that they rework their model this year into a peer-tutoring system. All of these centers reinforce “writing as a process” and create “a low-risk environment … with its goal to make students better writers and thinkers beyond the paper they are working on” (projects.uwc.utexas.edu/praxis). Because they welcome writing from all subjects, they reinforce the Writing Across the Curriculum principle that writing is a “method of learning” and “produces better thinkers” (T. Tierney and Shanahan, [1991]).

What distinguishes the BHS Writes program from these others initiatives is its three-tiered approach (as outlined in Program Abstract). It embraces both students and faculty as active and evolving writers, equally engaged in learning and communication that reaches beyond the classroom and into the community. Students and teachers alike will be encouraged—and provided the support — to think of themselves as writers. For too many, writing is something assigned and assessed. This program aims to change that view of writing and to cultivate a culture in which writing is an integral part of who we are, how we interact, and how we contribute to society.