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Writing and technology workshop benefits teachers
Michelle Crippen, standing at right, oversees the students in the computer lab at Woodward Elementary School . Crippen is the coordinator of the Writing and Technical Workshop at this site. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Since 2005, a number of teachers and students in the area go camping during the summer sans tents and campfires.

The camp sites are high tech, and the whole purpose of the experience revolves around writing – for the students, how to become better creative and technical writers; and for the teachers, how to become better writing mentors to the students.

This unique convergence of teaching and learning is made possible by the Great Valley Writing Project. This summer, GVWP at the California State University, Stanislaus, along with the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE), the Manteca Unified School District, and the Ripon Unified School District, sponsored Writing and Technology Workshops held at the Ripon Elementary and Ripon High in Ripon, Woodward Elementary in Manteca, and the Robert E. Goodwin Community School of the county Office of Education on North Main Street. The two-week sessions at Woodward and in Ripon are both completed. The workshop at Goodwin School, a campus owned by the SJCOE, will continue through June 28.

The students enrolled in the writing workshops benefit from the program through the writing and technology skills they gain from their participation, giving them a leg up in their educational pursuits. As an incidental incentive derived from this summer learning experience, they get to see the by-product of their young creative juices published online and in hard copy.

On the other side of this learning equation is how the teachers are benefiting from these two-week workshops, which is at the core of the Great Valley Writing Project’s ultimate mission: how one teacher can influence and improve the life of 30 students a year – and up to 150 kids if they happen to teach five classes a day at their respective schools.

While they are doing the workshops for the students, the teachers are also learning how to teach young minds the art of writing in pictures and in words, how they can push the children to do more in school, and how they might use the workshop pattern in their own classroom at their grade level. They spend an additional hour after the students leave for this part of their own learning process.

“The program is really changing their lives,” said Melissa King, the coordinator of the South San Joaquin County GVWP Writing and Technology Workshop that she started in 2005 “when a small group of teachers wanted to study new ways to teach kids about writing.”

This summer, the workshops held in four campuses (two in Ripon and two in Manteca) involved more than 60 teachers who taught more than 200 student participants.

Each workshop has a leadership team, curriculum and research-based instructional focus, according to King. The workshop held at the Goodwin school, for example, “explores the relationship between writing and the other creative arts, including visual art, music, drama, and dance.”

At this site, there are 19 teachers involved and 54 young writers taking part. They meet on weekdays from 8:35 to 11:30 a.m., with the teachers remaining after the class for another hour. The Goodwin workshop actually started on June 18, with the last day being an open house when parents and guests will have the opportunity to view the students’ accomplishments taking place on Friday, June 29.

The student participants at the Goodwin site are students entering grades one to six in August. The workshop group in Ripon consisted of students from first to 12th grade and involved 40 teachers, 10 teen coaches, and 140 students. The Woodward School site was the smallest with five teachers, six teen coaches, and 45 students in grades three to eight.

Teachers who sign up for the workshop programs do so while earning credits at Stanislaus State. But that’s not their main motivation, and neither is the financial remuneration, King said.

 “You’d be surprised how many join the program with absolutely no financial benefits. For many of them, (earning credit units) would not make any difference to them because your (teacher’s) salary is based on number of units above bachelor’s degrees. But many of these teachers have master’s degrees,” she said.

They do it “just for their own benefit; that’s the way I see it,” she added.

Some of the teachers also have children and grandchildren taking part in the workshops. If a teacher takes part in the workshops and she has children, she would need a babysitter. Some of the teachers nearing retirement bring along their grandchildren. So not only area the teacher participants excited about learning new teaching methods, they also get the excitement of seeing the benefits of the program working on their own children and grandchildren, King said.

One teacher has taken part in the writing and technology workshops every year for five years. “This year is going to be her year off,” she said.

What Great Valley Writing Project is all about

Great Valley Writing Project started in 1986. They were chartered specifically to partner with schools and school districts and to focus on professional development for teachers, explained King who got involved in it in 1993.

“It made a difference in my teaching,” Kind said, so much so that in 1995 she started proposing a writing project workshop in Manteca.

“We are affiliated with Great Valley Writing Project but we are the GVWP Writing Project Demonstration Workshop, and Writing and Technology Workshop,” she further explained.

The local affiliate has an account that is totally separate from the Great Valley Writing Project under which umbrella the South County summer workshops operate.

The lion’s share of the financial support for the South County workshops comes from Tuff Boy Company and “keeps us from depending on” donations and contributions, King said.

“Tuff Boy Company is, far and away, our biggest sponsor,” she said.

Other local supporters include local families such as the Fonsecas (Fonseca Farms,) the Brocchini (Brocchini Farms), and the Perrys (George Perry & Sons). From Stockton comes the support from the Calone Law office group which specializes in estate planning.

The program gets a lot of help from the school sites.

“Ripon Unified charges us virtually nothing for their site. We do pay one custodian, so it’s really a token payment for Ripon Unified,” King said.

The Ripon group used three computer labs and four classrooms for the 160 students who participated.

“Ripon has become our largest program largely because it’s the only place where we get facilities that size without paying,” said King.

The County Office of Education likewise is offering the use of its facility completely gratis.

“They’re the best. They charge absolutely nothing; they let us use their facility,” King said, because they see the Great Valley Writing Project being used to reach out to county students.

“They’ve been excellent partners,” she said.

The county’s own computer lab technician is even made available “to make sure their computers are configured for us,” King added.

What makes that even more significant is the fact 86 percent of the students taking part in the Goodwin School site workshop come from Manteca Unified schools, 30 percent of whom are on scholarship.

King said they are trying to negotiate regarding facilities use next year with Manteca Unified, which charged them a fee for the use of two small rooms at Woodward School, one of which was the computer lab. But she is not holding her breath because she understands the budget constraints the district is going through right now. King, however, is hoping to be able to offer a larger program in Manteca in the near future.