The Mardale Jay Writing Center was founded by a team of thirteen students in the graduating class of 2017. The founders team is a diverse group, but all of us share a central belief that writing can be a vehicle for social change. During our years at Manual, we used writing to save our school from being shut down in an email campaign, to fundraise for personal laptops to effectively closing the digital divide for twenty-five students in our AP English Language and Composition course, and even recorded original poetry and open letters at a local radio station.
However, we knew that majority of students have yet to discover the power of writing. After spending a decade or more in the public education system, they learned to see writing as purely academic and irrelevant to us and the lives we live outside of school. This has led many of us to disengage and to remain powerless by choosing silence. The evidence is everywhere. Like when we hear a freshman claim his “wrists were broken” to avoid writing in class.
In 2015, only 15% of Manual High School’s student body scored proficient or advanced in writing. In 2016, Manual High School’s lowest scoring category on the ACT was English with an average score of 15; three entire points behind the benchmark score for college readiness. And as the achievement gap continues to widen, we have witnessed many of our peers be swallowed up. The achievement gap is not just abstract data points and test results to us. It is personal. It is urgent. Many of us learned to write well in our years at Manual. We were determined to use our skills and knowledge to bring more of our peers along with us. In the fall of 2016, as we started our senior year, we knew it was the time to take action.
We started as a small group in an empty room with two squeaky tables in August of 2016. Within two weeks, we became finalists for the 2016 Imaginarium Design Challenge. Savanna, Carlos, Guadalupe and LaShae spent eight hours in a small meeting room in the back of the Ford Warren Library writing a planning a two-minute pitch which Carlos would deliver live in front of an audience and a panel of judges.
After delivering the pitch, one a judge asked him why his team believes opening a student-led writing center would make a difference for their peers, Carlos replied: “…because once they get practice, they will see it [writing] is their voice and no one can ever take writing away from them.” Later that same night, our team
was selected as a 2016 Design Challenge Winner and granted ten-thousand dollars of start-up money to make our vision become reality.
In October, we worked together to clean, paint, and re-design the space until it was transformed into a place where students felt inspired and empowered. We purchased new furniture, filled the bookshelves with resources and inspiring texts, and invited one of the founder’s cousins to come and paint custom murals on the walls. It was throughout this process, that the space became our own. In November, we fundraised enough
to attend the National Conference for Peer Tutoring in Writing. We represented one of only three high school groups to attend the conference and it was there that we learned we are the first students in the country to build a writing center from the ground up.We have since become a part of the International Writing Center community and published our writing on the Manual Writes blog. We have hosted events that give all students at Manual the opportunity to reclaim the power of voice. We worked to change the perception to ensure all students follow founder Nancy Chavez’s practice of “writing as a form of advocacy.”
Before the end of the first year, the Writing Center became an integral part of our school community. We hosted events, recruited a new cohort of students to take over the writing center after we graduate, and achieved our goal of leaving a legacy.
A passion and love of writing will unite us forever. Many of us discovered our own purpose in that first year as peer writing coaches and founders. We discovered that we are capable of influencing significant change in our community.
For us, the Writing Center will always be home and our team will always be family.
As a Writing Center cohort, we made the decision to move out of Manual High School because they weren’t helping us succeed and reach the goals that we wanted to. We wanted felt like we needed to bring our Writing Center work into the 5 points and Whittier community so we decided to move the Writing Center out of Manual and find a building in the community where we can partner with schools other than Manual. Since we have moved we have made many accomplishments and partnered with 6 schools and 11 organizations. Since we moved out of Manual, we secured $226,000 in order to continue Writing Center activities