The students from Cleveland Road Elementary School wove tall tales of unicorns and beds that transform into sports cars when they visited UGA recently.
Their fantasies could have tangible benefits in years to come, said Madison Garrett, a UGA senior and an intern in the UGA Department of English Writing Intensive Program, who has been working with the fourth- and fifth-graders this year.
“It’s good for them to see writing isn’t just something they do for assignments,” Garrett said. “They can do it for fun. They see people older than them still enjoying it. It encourages them to keep going.”
Seed grant funding from the Office of Service-Learning supported the students’ trip to campus, where they ate lunch in the Founders Garden, joined a class of undergraduate students in a class led by Writing Intensive Program Director Lindsey Harding, and read Judith Cofer’s “The Poet Upstairs” before launching into a set of writing exercises.
Harding has been working with the students, all of them enrolled in the Clarke County School District’s English for Speakers of Other Languages program to help them prepare for their language proficiency assessment at the end of the school year.
Lori Garrett-Hatfield has taught most of the students since they entered Cleveland Road Elementary as kindergarteners. They have consistently struggled with writing, she says. And it’s typically the last skill students acquire when learning a new language.
She has seen improvement in her students since they began working with Harding, Garrett-Hatfield said.
“I had one student who wouldn’t write two sentences,” she said. “Now, he’s written a story about a giant Titanic eating an iceberg. It’s awesome. It’s amazingly gratifying to get them to have a good time writing.”
Genesis Casas, 11, wrote a story about her bed turning into a fishbowl.
“Without stories, there wouldn’t be any happiness,” she said. “Writing can really help you in the future.”
Harding planned the visit to campus to show the children, none of whom has parents who went to college, what options they could have if they work hard in school.
Casas got the message.
“I like coming to UGA, seeing the college and the students,” she said. “This is my dream college to come to when I grow up.”
The Writing Intensive Program, housed in the English department in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, began in 1997 with the goal of improving the nature and quality of the undergraduate academic experience at UGA. Writing intensive courses provide students with writing opportunities and instruction beyond first-year composition and throughout a student’s academic career in all disciplines.
— Christopher James, Public Service and Outreach