Member Kudos: Skyline Writing Center, Ann Arbor Public Schools

2015 Education Excellence Award Recipient

DashBoard, May 20, 2015

Writing Center tutoring in action.

The 20 recipients of the 2015 MASB/SET SEG Foundation Education Excellence Awards are some of the greatest examples of unique and innovative public school programs in the state of Michigan. Over the next few months, MASB will share the details of each program from their applications, presented in alphabetical order by district. We begin with Ann Arbor Public Schools’ Skyline Writing Center.

Description: The Skyline Writing Center is a peer tutoring program that helps students become better writers by providing differentiated support at every stage of the writing process. Approximately 30 juniors and seniors are rigorously trained to staff the Writing Center each year. The Sweetland Center for Writing at the University of Michigan assists us with training and support.

The Writing Center was founded in 2012 as a response to the challenges facing our educational community: reduced funding, increasing class sizes and an inability to significantly reduce achievement gaps that has led to Skyline’s status as a Focus School. We offer high-quality support services to students in our physical writing center location every hour of every school day, in our Online Writing Lab at all times, and through push-in tutoring upon teacher request.

Writing Center staff.

Our mission also includes engaging Skyline’s creative community. Each year, we publish Teen Spirit, a literary magazine that features student writing, art and multimedia. The National Council of Teachers of English rated our first two issues as “superior.” In addition, our organization sponsored the first annual Skyline Writing Prize, a writing competition that was judged by a group of teachers from across the curriculum.

The Writing Center is more than just a tool for students to improve their writing or get a better grade.  The Skyline Writing Center develops relationships and social skills that will allow students to build futures in school and in the world of work with more confidence and maturity.

Funding: Our program receives no direct funding from our school or our district, so we have depended on donations and sales of Teen Spirit to fund the Writing Center. The printing of last year’s edition of Teen Spirit was donated by our publishing company, Thomson Shore, in an effort to reduce our program’s financial burden. The funding has permitted us to educate our community about services we offer.

Writing Center tutors.

Community Resources: We have partnered with the Sweetland Center for Writing at U of M to assist us with tutor training and community outreach. We have completed three joint training and mentorship sessions on building an effective writing center, building requisite tutoring skills and using additional qualitative data in the Writing Center. These sessions have enhanced our ability to offer high-quality writing support to all students.

Outreach: We have worked to engage our school’s creative community through the publication of Teen Spirit and through our Writing Prize competition. This year, we will be holding a release party for our literary magazine at Literati Bookstore to promote student work and our program.  We are also working with a neighboring high school to develop their writing center, providing us a future partner for collaboration.

Results: Since our founding in 2012, the Writing Center has made almost 3,200 student contacts and these interactions have yielded immensely positive feedback from students and teachers and augmented student achievement.  Our tutors are rated on a four-point scale on measures of empathy, ability to offer constructive advice and our ability to teach lessons for future use.  In aggregate, our tutors have been rated 3.8/4.0 over our three years of existence, and this year we have achieved some of our highest ratings ever averaging a 3.9.

Writing Center's literary magazine, Teen Spirit.

As we have become increasingly established, we have redoubled our work with students in the bottom 30 percent of achievement in an effort to assist in the closure of persistent achievement gaps in our school. In 2014-2015, 100 percent of students in the Bottom 30 percent of achievement said that their visit to the Writing Center provided significant assistance in making them better writers, and they reported scoring about a grade higher on their assignments as a result of our interventions. Bottom 30 students reported that their writing tutor was knowledgeable, empathetic and helped them gain confidence for future assignments.

Program Coordinator: Jeffrey Austin, Writing Center Director, [email protected]

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