Writing Centers Focus on Peer to Peer Learning

UA College of Humanities graduate students with the GEAR UP Program help Sunnyside Unified High School students mentor their 10th grade peers with writing skills.
Oct. 14, 2009

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Sustainability and preparation to pursue post-secondary education are the cornerstones of the GEAR UP Program. 

These cornerstones will be fortified by students who will serve as peer mentors at new writing centers established in two Sunnyside Unified high schools.

The writing centers are a part of the Tucson Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Project, known as the Tucson GEAR UP Project, that began in 2006.

The University of Arizona's Office of Early Academic Outreach was awarded a federal grant and has partnered with UA College of Humanities, College of Science and College of Education, Tucson Unified School District, Sunnyside Unified School District and Pima Community College. The goal is preparing 65 percent or more of high school students enrolled in Desert View, Sunnyside, Cholla Magnet, Pueblo Magnet and Tucson Magnet High School for postsecondary education.

The more than 3,000 plus students in the program will graduate in 2012.

Helping students in the GEAR UP cohort achieve educational excellence and to aspire for higher education are Tucson area teachers who are given support by UA GEAR UP staff which include UA master's and doctoral students.

Rachael Wendler is one of three GEAR-UP Project writing coaches. She is a UA doctoral student in Rhetoric, Composition and the Teaching of English in the UA College of Humanities.

Wendler spends 20 plus hours a week working with GEAR UP students and teaching, including training the 10th grade Desert View writing tutors in mentoring and writing skills.

Nine students from Desert View High School meet with Wendler during their advisory period. The lesson for the day focuses on students gaining pointers in helping their peers develop compositional outlines.

The students readily identify the main idea of a composition Wendler creates and they discuss strategies for guiding fellow students in making the document more organized.

The student mentors were selected by their teachers and began their training last year. They will begin proving one-on-one writing support to other 10th grade students on Oct. 19 when the Write Place writing center opens at Desert View.  

"The writing mentor students were selected based on their excellence in writing, maturity and their willingness to help other students improve their writing skills," said Wendler. The students will dedicate time after school and time during their advisory period to staffing the writing center.

Key to the students' success and the success of the program is the involvement of teachers such as Desert View High School's Maria Elena Wakamatsu.

Wakamatsu, the director of the English department who also teaches English and creative writing at Desert View, said having the UA students involved has made the writing center possible. "Having Rachel here has made all the difference and being a part of GEAR UP has provided these students with a great opportunity."

In addition to the direct service to students provided by the Writing Center project, the Tucson GEAR UP Project partners have provided professional development opportunities designed to ensure teachers have connections to tools, resources and individuals on the UA campus to strengthen their work to prepare students for success at the university level.

Over the years, with funds from the federal grant, the Tucson GEAR UP Project has worked to develop sustainable programs within the 14 partner middle schools and the 5 participating high schools. These programs focus on academic preparation for both students and teachers, provide support and information to parents, and provide culturally relevant social support and access to college programs for students.

The project also supports summer programs to ensure the students focus on college preparation all year.