Step UP Focus on Writing Launches Two Winthrop Elementary Students to the Big Leagues

08/26/2010 12:56

Dejon French and Manuela Medina, two students at the John Winthrop Elementary School in Dorchester, have major league talent when it comes to writing. The two classmates’ winning essays earned them $10,000 college scholarships from the Red Sox Foundation and a special visit to Fenway Park.

French and Medina were honored in the shadows of the Green Monster on Sunday, June 13, with their fellow 2010 Red Sox Scholars, who each are eligible to receive the scholarship once they enter college and get a year of mentoring and support from the foundation during sixth grade.

“I was doing my homework when I found out. I couldn’t stop jumping up and down,” said French.

“My mom called me and I started screaming and then we both started crying,” said Medina.

That two students from the same class were chosen from among hundreds of applicants to the prestigious contest was the result of a year of hard work becoming better writers, said Karen Byars, who teaches both students in her Advanced Work Class at the Winthrop.

Byars has been working this year with Boston College Professor of Education Maria Brisk, who has developed a pioneering writing instruction program called Genres In Writing.

As part of a Lynch School of Education program that brings college faculty and classroom teaches together on joint projects, Brisk and her graduate students have been working with teachers at the Winthrop and the Russell Elementary School with funding from a $150,000 Collaborative Fellows grant. Brisk’s work is also part of BC’s role in the Step UP initiative, which partners BC and four other universities with 10 BPS schools to help shrink the achievement gap. BC partners with the Winthrop and Russell.

“I can’t even imagine what the Winthrop would do with out BC and the Step UP initiative,” said Byars. “There are so many things that BC is doing at the school. The care that BC takes with the Winthrop School is absolutely phenomenal.”

For Brisk, who has spent the past four years perfecting her new writing instruction model, the students’ success was welcome news.

“This is great,” said Brisk, a teacher education and English Language Learning specialist. “We have put a lot of work into this project. We started this method of teaching writing without any models, so we must be doing something right. It’s a great feeling to know it has had a real benefit on the children.”

The students picked their topics and worked with Byars to prepare their essays and submit them to the Red Sox Foundation, the team’s official charity.

Manuela wrote about the sacrifices made by her mother, who is raising Manuela on her own.

“I’ve learned that you can always make it through anything,” Manuela wrote. “There’s always a solution to every problem. The most important thing is that I have my mom. That is why I work so hard in school. It is a present to my mom to work hard every day and try my best. My mom is my hero. She plays two roles in my life: mom and dad. I am very lucky.”

Dejon wrote about how he supports school uniforms, even though some kids think uniforms make you look like ‘a geek.’

“Since I began dressing professionally, I have become smarter and more successful at what I do,” French wrote. “I have a lot of self-control and self-discipline. Wearing business attire has helped me a lot. If a geek means being smart, I am glad to be called a geek.”

Teaching writing, Byars says, is the hardest job for elementary school teachers. “If I had not been working with Dr. Brisk, I can’t imagine both my students would have won this contest because I would not have had the knowledge to help guide these students to this level,” said Byars. “It has completely changed the way I approach the teaching of writing.”

Prof. Brisk developed the Genres In Writing curriculum four years ago to train teachers and student writers, particularly English Language Learners. Genres In Writing breaks with the dominant training genre – the personal essay – to teach children how to approach, prepare and execute writing across multiple genres – such as persuasive, expository, historical etc. – which they are likely to see on the state’s MCAS exam writing exams.

For information about this news release, contact Ed Hayward in the Office of News & Public Affairs at Boston College at 617-552-4826.