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West Jordan Journal

Copper Hills opens first writing center in Jordan District

Feb 28, 2019 03:14PM ● By Jet Burnham

The hours tutors volunteer in the writing center earn them service hours for clubs and programs they are involved in. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

The first high school writing center in Jordan District recently opened at Copper Hills High School to provide the students with help for any type of writing — English papers, history projects, lab reports, resumes, etc.

“I know that my students need more support than I can provide — even though I desperately want to,” said Andrea Hinojosa, a social studies teacher at the school of 2,500 students. “It can be difficult for teachers to meet the individual needs or challenges of each student in class. I hope the Writing Center will offer students a safe environment to explore their challenges, improve their skills and confidence, and, ultimately, achieve at higher levels.”

Michelle Szetela, director of the center, said the services are not just for students who need someone to edit their papers.

“The focus is on teaching students the skills that they could then use themselves to identify problems in their own writing,” she said.

Valery Juarez, a senior who works as a tutor in the writing center, hopes students will see the value of the center.

“A big part of opening this writing center is getting students to realize that they can get help wherever they are,” she said, noting that many students are initially reluctant to ask for help. “Even if they break that barrier just a tiny bit by showing us an essay they need help on, then they’ll be more comfortable getting help with bigger issues.”

Another tutor, junior Grace Bramlage, said sometimes students just need a second set of eyes to look over their writing.

“I think another voice in your writing is really beneficial—an outside eye just to tell you what you might not be aware of,” she said. As a tutor, she can catch errors students missed and teach them how to fix them.

Hinojosa believes the writing center is a great resource for all students, including the large numbers of students enrolled in the 38 advanced placement (AP) and concurrent enrollment college-level courses offered at CHHS. She said even students taking advanced level classes may struggle with writing proficiency or get stuck on a specific assignment. And with 60 percent of the AP U.S. history and AP world history exams comprising written essays, these students need strong writing skills.

For her students who have not achieved proficiency in writing, Hinojosa will require them to visit the Writing Center.

“While I always encourage my students to be proactive rather than reactive (in other words, visit the Writing Center if necessary before the assignment is due), the Writing Center will add a really great accountability piece for students in need of a second chance,” she said.

The center’s goal is for students to get help but not become dependent on the tutors.

“We’re just teaching them how to be more independent after coming to the writing center,” said Juarez. “Really, we’re just teaching them skills that they’re going to take with them besides the paper they’re working on.”

The center has nine student tutors who have passed through an extensive selection and training process. These students have wide-ranging writing experience, said Szetela, and most have experience informally tutoring friends. Tutor Adi Marshall said her friends often feel more comfortable asking for her for help, knowing she has done the same exact assignment.

“One thing I like about it is it’s students that are helping other students,” she said. “I’m kind of acting as a middle man, still getting them the help that they need without them being intimidated by going to teachers.”

Hinojosa recruited Marshall and Bramlage to be tutors due to their writing talent and growth mindset skills. She said they also have the ability to be calm, patient and encouraging.

CHHS is the only secondary school in the district to have a Writing Center, according to Szetela, who has been working for years to get one started. She is aware of only one other in the state, at The Waterford School in Sandy.

“One of the reasons that writing centers don’t get started in high school is because the teachers don’t have experience working in writing centers on a more professional level,” she said.

CHHS is fortunate to have teachers such as Szetela with graduate degrees in specific content area subjects. Szetela has also worked in several university writing centers, attended conferences and collected research.

Szetela, Hinojosa and three other teachers—Steve Haslam, Joshua Brothers and Amanda Campos— applied for grants and coordinated together to establish the writing center, which they hope will help all students become stronger writers across the curriculum.

“If students choose to utilize this resource, I know it can really make a difference in their achievement and their confidence,” said Hinojosa.

As more students find their way to the writing center, the hours will be extended. Currently, the Writing Center, held in room 1823, is open Tuesdays after school 2:30–3:30 p.m., during Grizzly opts intervention period on Thursdays 9–9:30 a.m. and Friday mornings before school 7:15–8:15 a.m.