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WMU to host National Writing Project conference

July 18, 2008

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University's Third Coast Writing Project, now concluding its 15th Summer Institute, has been chosen as the host of a national conference for the National Writing Project.

Some 200 to 300 teachers from across the country are expected to attend the National Writing Project Rural Sites Network Conference March 13-15, 2009, at the Radisson Plaza Hotel. The conference will highlight WMU and the communities in and around Kalamazoo.

Members of a National Writing Project leadership team were at WMU earlier this year to conduct an on-site visit and plan for the conference, which is held every other year and brings together teachers at rural and semi-rural districts to share best practices in education.

The conference will begin with a dinner on Friday, March 13, featuring a prominent speaker. Michigan historian and storyteller Larry Massie will highlight the Friday evening banquet.

On Saturday, March 14, the conference will feature 20 to 30 concurrent sessions addressing themes and issues important to educators nationwide. Dr. Karen Vocke, WMU assistant professor of English, author of "Where Do I Go From Here? Meeting the Unique Educational Needs of Migrant Students" and an authority on English language learners and migrant education issues in rural communities, will be the keynote speaker. The conference will also feature nationally prominent playwright and WMU assistant professor of English Dr. Steve Feffer, along with Laura Feffer, a noted area teacher at Allegan Alternative High School.

"There's been a real recognition of the need for teachers in rural districts to be able to teach to English language learners," says Tanya Baker, associate director of the National Writing Project and a member of the leadership team visiting WMU recently. "A recent Rural Schools and Community Trust study of rural schools for the first time noticed significant growth in English language learners."

This is the first time the conference has been held in Kalamazoo. Baker says it made sense to hold it here because of the great work being done through the local National Writing Project site, the Third Coast Writing Project, WMU's steadily growing summer writing initiative.

Now celebrating its 15th year of funding through the National Writing Project, the Third Coast Writing Project, directed by Dr. Ellen Brinkley, WMU professor of English, offers classroom-tested, research-based strategies that support teaching and learning at all levels and in all content areas. Its flagship program, the annual Invitational Summer Institute, began this year on Monday and concludes today, July17. The institute draws together teachers from across the region to learn about the latest research, professional and personal writing, technology assistance and teacher-led demonstrations.

Baker says Third Coast's relatively new digital storytelling workshop, which the National Writing Project awarded last year with a $15,000 expansion grant, is an example of the outreach the local site is accomplishing with regional school districts. The expansion grant has allowed Third Coast to offer expanded professional development in digital storytelling to teachers across Southwest Michigan across disciplines.

"The Third Coast Writing Project is considered to be a very strong writing project site," Baker says. "Ellen Brinkley was one of the National Writing Project leaders who began the Rural Sites Network."

The National Writing Project was formed 36 years ago and grew from one group of teachers who came together in Berkley, Calif. Today, the project has about 200 sites across the country, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Its Rural Sites Network was formed in 1992, linking teachers in rural areas together through National Writing Project sites.

Teachers from rural areas quickly found they shared many challenges, among them the difficulty of implementing new ideas and school reforms; tough economic circumstances, including declining populations, school closings and high poverty levels; and large service areas that made it difficult to attract teachers to summer institutes and maintain continuity problems.

In addition to Brinkley, who has served as chair of the Rural Sites Network, Baker also singles out Dr. Jonathan Bush, WMU associate professor of English and co-director of Third Coast's New Teacher Initiative, for making Third Coast an exemplary National Writing Project site.

Third Coast has been a great resource for area teachers, says Jennifer Conrad an English teacher at Allegan High School, who became part of its programs early in her teaching career.

"It's kept me on top of what other teachers are doing in their classrooms," Conrad says. "I'm always trying to encourage other teachers in my school to get involved because it's had such a huge impact on my career."

Related article
English professor to keynote national conference

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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