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West Jordan Journal

CHHS expands writing center to new subjects, new formats, new schools

Nov 11, 2020 11:56AM ● By Jet Burnham

Tutors prepare to work with students in the new location of the Writing Center and Learning Lab. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

The Writing Center at Copper Hills High School has expanded its services beyond writing tutoring, beyond a physical room and beyond the school.

“We're trying to diversify from being just a writing center to a learning lab as well to offer peer tutoring in as many content areas as we can see,” center director Andrea Hinojosa said. “We have a diverse set of tutors to do that. We're really trying to create an individualized service.”

At the Writing Center and Learning Lab, students can get help in any subject—in person or virtually. Student tutors with varying academic experience provide specialized tutoring for every subject and in several languages.

“We have a tutor for really anything,” said senior Jose Arturo Rodriguez-Lira. “What makes us really good is that everybody has their own passion so it all contributes to making this a good environment for everybody.”

The center is student-led. As lead tutor, Rodriguez-Lira ensures the 20 tutors are trained and organized. Senior Tazia Mcaffee schedules in-person and virtual appointments, matching students with tutors who can meet their needs.

Student tutors volunteer their time working with their peers.

“It's so cool to see them get the skills that will help them move on,” sped teacher Vickey Codella said. “It makes them feel really confident and good to know something that they can teach somebody else.”

Hinojosa said student tutors have taken ownership to make the center successful. When the center opened this year in a new, more visible and accessible location just inside the media center, tutors suggested adding a charging station and speaker to the room. Several teachers pooled their Jordan Education Foundation grant money to purchase those items along with yoga ball chairs and a small refrigerator.

“We're really excited to finally be in a permanent home where we can make it our space,” said Hinojosa, who wants to create a coffee-shop vibe where kids want to hang out.

While adaptations required by COVID this year have changed the way the center functions, it has actually been for the better, said Hinojosa. To meet the needs of online students, students in quarantine and social distancing requirements, the center is scheduling more virtual sessions. That experience has accelerated the expansion of peer tutoring sessions to other schools.

“We're able to open it up to other schools in the district and pilot our services beyond Copper Hills,” Hinojosa said. “I don't know that we would have figured that out or thought about that without this current situation.”

Advanced Placement teachers at nearby high schools have expressed interest in sending students to access CHHS’ writing center services.

Kelsie Berrett, who teaches at Mountain Ridge High, said it is a struggle to give students the individualized support they need in writing intensive courses such as her AP U.S. history class. 

“I'm really grateful that I can give my students this opportunity to get more one-on-one attention to improve their writing, which will benefit them for the AP test and beyond,” she said. “This is an opportunity for us to work across schools to help support our students district-wide, and I'm really grateful to the teachers at Copper Hills that made this possible.” 

“It is our hope that, as we explore opportunities like this, we can meet our ultimate objective of helping the other high schools in our district establish and operate their own writing centers based on the model we have created,” Hinojosa said. “We are still the only public high school writing center in the state of Utah.” 

Writing centers are common in the East but rare here in the West. Having the only one in the state has brought attention to CHHS from the Secondary School Writing Center Association. 

“We are the innovators; we're the ones they are watching to see that we can pave the way for these other schools to get going,” said Steve Haslam, a language arts teacher who has been involved in the writing center from the beginning.

The Writing Center and Learning Lab is named in memory of Michelle Szetela, who studied at the Purdue writing center and worked for years to finally establish a writing center at CHHS in 2019. Szetela died suddenly in March of 2019, just six days after being diagnosed with cancer.

“She was an expert in writing centers, and she had studied writing centers nationally, so she was bringing all of the expertise and the awareness to our program,” language arts teacher Amanda Tibbitts said. “So, it really is her program that we're continuing in her honor.”