New coaches are coming to Richmond High School this year, but we’re not talking about football, basketball and baseball coaches. Instead we’re talking about writer coaches.
Writer coaches are volunteers who help students complete their teacher-assigned writing homework. Students range from emerging to proficient writers. Robert Menzimer, executive director of Community Alliance for Learning, said the WriterCoach Connection program began 12 years ago at Berkeley High School when 35 parents got together because they felt their children weren’t learning how to write well enough.
“WriterCoach Connection collaborates with teachers and works one-on-one with students to develop the students’ writing and critical thinking skills by recruiting and training community volunteers as writing coaches,” Menzimer said. Today there are 532 trained volunteers coaching 2,037 students in the Berkeley, Oakland, Albany and West Contra Costa school districts.
The program at Richmond High will work with 150 English Language Development students. So far 53 volunteers have signed up to coach. Sixty are needed, but more are welcome. “You don’t have to be a writer, editor or teacher to volunteer,” Menzimer said. “We will train anyone to do this. Just be fluent in English and like kids.”
Training for new writer coaches begins this August and involves two sessions of three hours each. Coaching is scheduled to start at the school in mid-September and is during the school day. On average the coach meets with their student twice a month.
Fernando Ramirez is a rookie writing coach and 2004 Richmond High graduate. The bilingual aid and community outreach worker at Pinole Middle School said completing homework assignments is hard for students whose parents don’t speak English. “When I got home, my parents only spoke Spanish to me,” he said of his own time in high school. “That’s why I struggled a lot in school. I would have questions for my parents to answer and they couldn’t answer them.”
Nicole Barden, of Oakland, coached for one semester. She said her experience reminded her that every student’s success is part of a community effort, and that success doesn’t simply rely on teachers, principals, or the school board. “The part that I liked the most was the ability for coaches to better understand school environments,” Barden said. “We were able to see what specific teachers did in their classrooms, and we saw how they prepared for standardized tests. A look into school settings gives a coach a better understanding, and appreciation, of what it is like being a teacher or a student in the current K-12 settings we have.”
Dale Rogers Marshall, of Piedmont, has been a writing coach at Fremont High School in Oakland for four years. The retired UC Davis professor said she got involved with the program because she likes working with high school students to promote college access. “Students talk about their determination to go to college so their parents will be proud of them, but they also talk about the pain of having classmates and neighbors die in gun battles,” she said. “Our students are very appreciative. One student I had worked with last year saw me in the hall and said her writing had improved a lot and added ‘You had a big part in that, you know.’ It is that person-to-person relationship which makes it all worthwhile.”
Although writer coaches sometimes learn heavy details about a student’s personal life, Menzimer said coaches are not therapists. “We’re their writer coach and we focus on their writing.”
For more information and to register to become a writer coach click here or call Shelli Fried at (510) 530-7600.