Students at Abilene High School have a unique opportunity to improve their writing skills through peer tutoring, as a result of collaboration between the high school and Abilene Christian University.
The Eagle Writing Center, which opened in August, was the brainchild of James McGee, who teaches Advanced Placement Literature and Composition at AHS and also is a graduate student in ACU’s Department of Language and Literature.
McGee said he realized writing was on a downward trend in public schools and began thinking about how to improve it. The center, which includes about a dozen student mentors, was part of the solution that he proposed to his school administration. Only a few other high schools have established writing centers in Texas, but the concept is used more often in colleges.
Students come to the center of their own accord or by referral from a teacher to receive writing help, with less focus on proofreading and correcting specific assignments, and more focus on improving writing ability in general.
“Writing is by definition creation, which is the highest order of thinking,” McGee said. “So if we want our students here in Abilene to be better students, better thinkers, writing supports that on every level.”
ACU administration and faculty agreed with that premise and responded to McGee’s idea with help financially and through training peer tutors.
“It’s important for ACU to be a good neighbor and support our local community. This is a great way for us to be engaged,” said Kevin Campbell (’00), chief enrollment officer at ACU. “And, we place great emphasis on the writing skills of our own students. One of the top skills employers are looking for in college graduates is a strong ability to communicate well in writing. High school students with strong writing skills turn into strong college students.”
McGee initially began working with Dr. Cole Bennett, associate professor and chair of ACU’s Department of Language and Literature, and Bennett became involved in training the Abilene High student tutors. ACU also was able to help financially by providing furniture and decor to create a comfortable and less intimidating environment to encourage students to enjoy writing rather than fearing it.
“It’s really exciting when a high school decides to allow, in its infrastructure, a place for students to learn to write better,” Bennett said. “I’m happy for James and happy he’s one of our students whose fire was lit. Make no mistake, he’s making a real difference in this school system.”
That difference is seen in the daily operation of the writing center, which has exceeded expectations in usage and will likely increase throughout the year, McGee said. Students run almost all aspects of the writing center with input as needed from McGee, and the experience for those peer tutors is as significant as the students seeking writing help.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our tutors; they are self-starters and very responsible young men and women,” McGee said. “They came up with many of the policies, had input in the way the room is laid out, and even came up with their own mission statement. They are the heart and soul of the Eagle Writing Center.”
Thanks to Britni Tatum for her photography of the Eagle Writing Center.