Teacher Leaders Create Project Write to Respond to Student Needs
April 18, 2023
April 18, 2023
By Rhonda Lancaster
Student-athletes of all ages have access to local youth leagues and recreation programs to hone their skills and pursue their dreams. What about students who are writers? That question led a small collective of teachers to found Project Write, Inc. in 2014, a nonprofit organization aimed at helping young writers in the Shenandoah Valley.
The effort was led by founding president Patrick McCarthy, a high school English and creative writing teacher, and Erin Hubbard, who now works in education consulting, to create “new pathways for young individuals interested in the world of writing,” in McCarthy’s words. They had helped with student workshops through the Northern Virginia Writing Project, where they saw successful weekend workshops and a summer writers’ camp.
“We were confident that we could provide a similar experience with one sizable benefit: a partnership with Shenandoah University’s Children’s Literature Conference (CLC),” says McCarthy. So, when Project Write launched, some CLC author-presenters also led workshops for young writers, a practice that has continued.
Today, youth workshops run on weekends and in the summer, and both teacher-leaders and young writers find them energizing experiences. PWI has begun to see its first participants graduate from college, some with publishing contracts, and return as presenters. Andrew Joseph White, a graduate of Winchester’s Handley High School and a PWI participant from elementary through high school, published his first novel, Hell Followed with Us, in June 2022, and it landed on The New York Times YA bestseller list.
“The benefit of Project Write is that we take the pressure of school away,” says PWI Vice President and Loudoun Valley High Writing Center Director Christopher Humenik, a Loudoun Education Association member. “There’s no grade coming, there’s no deadline due. It’s ‘get where you can and be comfortable with it.’”
While PWI teacher consultants bring a wealth of classroom experience to the workshops, they, too, often benefit in ways that strengthen their teaching arsenal. After the pandemic shut down schools in 2020, PWI moved its summer workshop online. Students were so hungry for interaction that it wasn’t a struggle to get them to turn on cameras and microphones for the authors, instructors, or their peers. And, while many of their teaching colleagues struggled to adjust to online or hybrid learning that fall, the PWI instructors understood how to engage students online.
Project Write has continued to grow and adapt. The summer workshop is now offered using a hybrid model with most writers attending in person, but those who live farther away or whose parents can’t drive them daily can attend online. An Advanced Young Writers’ Workshop is offered virtually throughout the year for writers devoted to developing longer term projects. Students and teachers from around the state (and beyond) are welcome at both. Writing is a solitary activity, but often a writer needs an audience to spark motivation. Having an instructor to facilitate their growth and a group of peers to provide feedback regularly pushes the writers to keep going.
Bringing together teachers and students from across the state enhances both the individuals and the organization. “Project Write seeks to build communities of writers,” McCarthy says. “More than ever, students need a place to feel connected. For those who want to write, Project Write can help you find your way.”
Rhonda Lancaster, a Frederick County Education Association member, teaches English and creative writing at James Wood High School. She is the president of the advisory board for Project Write, Inc., and is a teacher consultant with Shenandoah Valley Writing Project.
Here are some reasons your students will benefit from writing and from getting better at it, suggested by a variety of educators and education organizations: