Program Serves As Gateway to College Experience for English Language Learners
Rio School District (RSD) is partnering with the South Coast Writing Project (SCWriP) at University of California, Santa Barbara to put on a summer writing program at Cal State University Channel Islands (CSUCI) for English Language students entering grades 3-8 in the district.
The program, called Young Writers Camp (YWC), runs June 17 – June 28, Monday – Friday from 9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. with chaperoned bus transportation provided for all students to CSUCI. About 9 students designated as English Language Learners were chosen to attend from each school in RSD, with selections based on a written explanation by students of why they wanted to take part in the camp.
Designed to foster of love of writing for students, this year’s RSD program is additionally intended to extend a welcome hand to parents who may not have been to college themselves.
At an opening orientation event on Thursday, June 13, RSD bussed more than 100 parents, students, and family members to CSUCI for an evening of writing and inspiring speakers. One speaker, Celina Zacarias, CSUCI Community & Government Relations for the Office of the President, was once herself a student in Rio School District, and shared a moving story about her journey from picking strawberries in the fields to becoming the first in her family to go to college, and now traveling the country to represent CSUCI.
Another speaker that evening, Dr. Oscar Hernandez, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services for RSD, shared “We’re excited to help seed communities of writers across the district. Our intent is to engage families in a love of writing, and to open up the doors of possibility so they see college as a viable, attainable goal for their children.” He commended each of the RSD school principals, as well as Superintendent Dr. Puglisi and Wanda Kelly, Director of Innovation and Principal Support for their desire to provide this opportunity to Rio students free of charge. Parents and families will be bussed to CSUCI once again on the final day of camp to celebrate students’ writing and hear them read their published work aloud.
Rio teachers are also being invited to take part in the half-day camps, which include daily journal writing, walking field trips to inspire writing, guest lectures from published authors, and structured writing workshops. Students engage in a broad spectrum of fiction and nonfiction that may include a variety of genres, from poetry to narrative, expository to memoir, and more. On the final day of camp, families are welcomed for a catered lunch and celebration where writers read their published work from a camp anthology.
YWC has been providing high-quality summer writing instruction to Central Coast students for nearly 30 years, and has often operated camps in Oxnard, including programs at Rio Rosales Elementary in 2017 and 2018.
Nicole Wald, Young Writers Camp Director, is excited about the learning potential of this district-wide endeavor. “Our aim is to give students an experience that leads to a deeper understanding of the writing process and what it means to be a part of a writing community. We want them to walk away not only with an improved skill set, but a more positive view on writing.”
She continued, “Our camps are highly impactful for writers of all levels, but particularly for English Language Learners. Writing skills are known to be the biggest hurdle for students to move into being fully fluent in English, and down the road this affects both high school graduation rates and college acceptance rates. YWC teachers are able to provide the extra support needed to help ELs increase writing skills.”
Now in its 27th year, Young Writers camp has traditionally been offered to incoming 3-9 graders with the aim of providing students access to the best and most inspiring writing instruction available. In 2019, the camp’s open enrollment sessions at UCSB and CLU, as well as closed district sessions at Oxnard Union High School District and Pleasant Valley School District, anticipate serving nearly 250 students, in addition to the 72 in Rio.
The camps are loosely modeled on practices the teachers have engaged in themselves. Every group of 20-25 students is co-taught by two high-caliber teachers who have participated in the intensive month-long South Coast Writing Project Summer Institute at UCSB, deepening their understanding of the art of teaching writing while also honing their own composing skills.
Amada Irma Perez, an acclaimed local bilingual author and educator, who taught at the Rio camps the past two years, typifies the high caliber of instruction students will receive. After 25 years in the classroom, she penned her first book, My Very Own Room/Mi Propio Cuartito, during the 1998 SCWriP Summer Institute. Since then, she has taught or presented to over 30 sessions of YWC camps, and published several more children’s books, celebrating the Latino culture and sharing her experiences growing up as an immigrant.
“The magic of camp is most apparent at the end, when kids who were barely writing a paragraph at the start are turning out multiple pages,” commented Perez. “The kids begin to view themselves as writers, and walk away more confident in their writing skills and ability.”