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Writing Skills Taught Here

by Susan Robertson, The Virginia Gazette

Dr. James BeersThe concept of the Eastern Virginia Writing Project has attracted Nicole Throckmorton, an English teacher at Warhill High, and numerous others. 

"I really think the Writing Project revitalized my approach to teaching," said Throckmorton. "Writing has become the basis for my teaching philosophy."

The Eastern Virginia project is a subset of the National Writing Project. For the past 30 years, it has been operating a summer institute and year-round workshops at the College of William & Mary. It's one of 200 sites across the country and serves a region extending to Hampton Roads and beyond.

Jim Beers, director, outlined two principles.  Teachers need to develop their skills as writers to overcome the anxiety of teaching writing. And to help students improve, teachers need to become writers.

"It's trying to show people that writing is not just something you do in the classroom," he said. "It can be an avenue for learning."

Throckmorton applied to the Writing Project's summer institute in 2005 after teaching for seven years in WJC Schools. Her motivation was the chance to work on her own writing. 

The experience lured her away from programmatic teaching and convinced her to add writing activities into her curriculum. Beers asked her to work the summer institute the following year and she's been on board ever since.

Sue Swift, a teacher from Northumberland County, goes back to 1996. "Teachers don't know what to do," she said about writing assignments in the classroom. "They often feel ill-equipped as writers."

Grace Rivera, a teacher at Hines Middle School in Newport News, agreed that teachers often don't feel like they've had a lot of instruction in writing, so they're insecure about their own work.

She found the summer institute "personally and professionally amazing."Word has spread around her school, and now four teachers are planning to emulate a project on writing journals that she put in place last year.

Swift said that the Writing Project spans all grade levels and subject areas. Beers said that a handful of community college professors participate as well.

The summer institute runs four days a week for five weeks each year. Teachers receive 6 graduate credits for attending, and as many as 20 receive tuition stipends. 

Throckmorton said that teachers who complete the summer institute can become teacher consultants and hold programs at their schools. Swift has worked closely with Beers during the last three years to create a rural site on the Northern Neck that has since partnered with Rappahannock Community College.

Beers said that there will be space for the summer institute in the new School of Education at the college once it's completed next spring.