Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Stories and ideas: a celebration of words

A celebration of words /
My first Read-and-Write-a-thon experience

was a year ago this weekend.

Looking back on a year ago this weekend, I had never participated in a read-a-thon and, honestly, didn't really know what to expect. Would I be nervous? Would I be confident? Would the audience warm to my literary selection?

At 9 a.m. on a sunny, spring Saturday morning, as I recall, it was my turn to read in the WriterCoach Connection Read-and-Write-a-thon at Longfellow Middle School Library in Berkeley, an annual event in support of the WriterCoach Connection (WCC) program, a small but remarkable non-profit. Since 2001, WCC has brought one-on-one writing support to thousands of of middle school and high school students of all skill levels in the East Bay cities of Oakland, Richmond, Berkeley, El Cerrito and Albany. This year, more than 650 coaches are working with over 2,200 students.

Looking back on my first Read-and-Write-a-thon experience, I was both humbled and amazed. There was much generosity and support from the dozen-or-so who came early in the day to the library at the time I read a selected passage from Calvin Trillin's Tummy Trilogy, an ode to food. They focused on my every spoken word for the 15 minutes in which I commanded their attentiveness.

Fast forward a year and this Saturday, it's time for me to participate in the WriterCoach Connection's sixth annual Read-and-Write-a-thon. For 10 consecutive hours, volunteers like me, students and supporters will share their love of the written and spoken word. There's bound to be poetry read as well as passages from novels -- even a yearly tradition of the reading of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. It's our major fundraiser of the year, and it helps bridge the gap between what the WCC costs and what we're able to raise from school budgets and grants.

This year, I have been working individually with a variety of seventh and eighth grade students at Longfellow Middle School in Berkeley. My students represent a microcosm of the school's student body -- black, white, Asian, Hispanic -- and of the city of Berkeley, too. It has been a uniquely rewarding experience to see my students become more critical thinkers and confident writers.

My goal as a writing coach is simple and straight-forward, yet heartfelt: to help strengthen a student's writing skills and help them develop their ideas. And, through the use of positive encouragement and showing care, I believe I am making a difference in each student's educational development.

If you would like to support me, our readers, and this wonderful program by making a small donation, that would be very cool. If you can help, please go to www.writercoachconnection.org, click on the blue Read-and-Write-a-thon banner, and you'll land on our fundraising page.

Whatever you can do, thank you so much for keeping us going. No pledge is too small. In fact, $10 will buy the paper and pencils a class needs to keep writing all year. Those 2,200 kids, my fellow volunteer coaches, and dozens of English teachers thank you, too. Donate because kids write the future.

And, if you're in Berkeley on Saturday morning around 9:45 a.m., when I'll be reading a baseball tale about Willie Mays from Roger Angell's Game Time, feel free to drop in at the Longfellow Middle School Library where the Read-and-Write-a-thon will be taking place from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. There will be some light snacks and refreshments available -- and the library will be transformed into an enjoyable literary cafĂ© atmosphere full of stories and ideas.

Photo by Bob Menzimer.

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