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WRITERS IN THE SCHOOLS (WITS) PROGRAM TAKES ROOT IN LOCAL SCHOOLS THANKS TO UMFK STUDENT GUIDES

May 15, 2007

NR07049

The Writers in the Schools (WITS) program is designed to help classroom teachers introduce the fundamentals of creative writing to students in public schools and institutions, enhancing the reading and writing curricula (www.writersintheschools.org). Various WITS programs have been available across the country since 1983.

This past semester, WITS guides from the University of Maine at Fort Kent planted seeds of interest in poetry through workshops held at Fort Kent Elementary School for students in grades 3 through 5. UMFK Professor Geraldine Cannon Becker is the WITS program director and student Jenna Joy Beaulieu is the program coordinator. There are high hopes for the WITS program to take root, to grow, and to flourish for learners of all ages in the community.

Poet, James Whitehead founded a WITS program at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where Professor Cannon Becker earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (Poetry). She hopes to develop a similar, on-going program at UMFK.

The WITS workshop experience eventually could be extended to community members in learning centers throughout the year. In the future, guides plan to serve area K-12 students in participating schools/institutions and community members at participating community centers. Members of the Student Association for Greater English Studies (SAGES), English education students, or creative writing students are among those who may volunteer to train or sign-up for training in the WITS program. When the volunteers meet established requirements, they may become guides.

WITS guides must take at least two writing courses and demonstrate a basic understanding of form, theory and the workshop method. Training begins with an introduction to the program and a series of meetings on ways and means to encourage writers' creativity. The meetings recently were offered through a Form & Theory of Creative Writing course at UMFK. Training is complete when the guides demonstrate their effectiveness in the teaching methods.

Guides are encouraged to be creative, innovative, and to work with teachers in the classrooms or learning centers. Guides help writers of all ages describe their experiences and feelings using well placed concrete details and organized appeals to the intellect and to the senses.

In light of the recent Virginia Tech tragedy, it may be important to note that creative writing can be a good outlet for "loners," and sometimes writers who are not "loners" may do their best writing alone. Some aspects of creative writing can be highly social. Workshops can be a lot of fun when people are open to thinking in new ways together.

The main goal of WITS is to nurture positive creative and critical thinking skills while building reading, writing and communication skills. At the same time, all learners may develop improved social skills as they actively engage in their education in imaginative, exciting ways.

WITS guides work in teams of two or three and hold two workshop sessions with the same learners. One workshop is for pre-writing, planning and initial drafting. Another workshop is for reviewing previous content, drafting more poems, editing and revising work for display or publication. Participating classrooms may display student poems on the walls. In the future, WITS guides hope to create an anthology of work created through the workshops.

WITS workshops are "hands-on" and are heart-felt experiences. Everyone deserves a chance to experience the power of language as a luxurious pleasure that is in reach, regardless of stature. Everyone is entitled to learn to use words to the best of their ability, and guides can help people who have never given voice to their inner thoughts find new ways to do so.

WITS workshops are exciting experiences with effects that last. The Student Association for Greater English Studies (SAGES) sponsors WITS because the students involved care about helping others learn to better appreciate the power and the pleasure of working with words.

To date, the UMFK student guides have had nothing but positive feedback from the elementary students and their teachers. One student from FKES said: "I really like this new way of thinking. It is fun." That's fundamental to WITS.