"No matter what field you're in–whether you're a scientist, a philosopher, or a linguist–whoever tells the best story is going to win. When I'm competing with all the other people, if I can make my case more clearly, and more persuasively, and actually more entertaining than anybody else, then I'm going to win that argument," says Lisa Levchuck, Upper School English Teacher at Oak Knoll. She is extolling the importance of writing skills and a skilled writer's power to persuade.
In this episode of The Happy Kids Project we learn about The Writing Center at Oak Knoll–a truly distinctive peer to peer service in the Upper School. Oak Knoll's Writing Center provides a unique opportunity for middle and high school students to take on leadership roles while supporting their peers. Hear how the Writing Center increases student confidence, leadership skills, and academic excellence in a safe and supportive space.
Science, technology, engineering, art and math. STEAM Project-based learning. Collaboration. These are 21st century skills. We live in an age where robotics, artificial intelligence and computer coding seem to emerge as priority skills. The Oak Knoll academic program certainly provides opportunities for students to excel in all of these areas, but also places a high priority on writing proficiency. Why?
I asked Oak Knoll English teacher Lisa Levchuk that question….
No matter what field you're in, whether you're a scientist, or a philosopher, a linguist, whoever tells the best story is going to win. When I'm competing with all the other people, if I can make my case more clearly, and more persuasively, and actually more entertaining than anybody else, then I'm gonna win that argument.
Welcome to the Happy Kids Project –- the official podcast of Oak Knoll School in Summit New Jersey. It's here that we delve into the many ways our academic program and school culture cultivate people with purpose. Today we're taking a peek at a rather unique offering at Oak Knoll for middle and high school students — The Writing Center. Lara Schaeffer, head of the Oak, no English department, tells us how it all got started.
Writing centers are fairly common in universities and colleges, but less so in high schools. One of the most important features of a writing center is that students are trained to provide the tutoring to fellow students.
Faculty members are also available, and if a student prefers to work with a faculty member, then by all means, that's an option.
I think what's unique about writing centers is that we give students a real opportunity to take on leadership roles, and we can do that because we have students who have those capabilities as writers and readers to help others.
Meet Ella Cilli, senior at Oak Knoll, student director of The Writing Center and also a tutor.
It's funny because one of my first weeks at Oak Knoll as a freshman, I was always like an English lover and it was always my favorite class and the way that Oak Knoll writes papers was very different from my middle school and also more mature.
So, I was struggling a little bit the first few weeks of my freshman year, and my teacher, who was actually Ms. Shaeffer, who now proctors the writing center, referred me over to The Writing Center and they really helped me, introduced me to a lot of seniors who I didn't know, and different English teachers who were also in the writing center at the time.
That's how I found it. And then, my sophomore year I also went to The Writing Center, and then my junior year I became a tutor. I think, just sharing my love for writing definitely is the biggest thing because English isn't for everybody and writing an essay isn't for everybody. But if you understand how to do it and you can do it without as much stress, I think it makes it a little bit more fun and more creative.
Since I've always been a lover of creative writing, it's all about telling a story, and I think you can make any essay creative. You can make it your own. I was never a painter or anything like that, but I think the same amount of creativity goes into painting as goes into writing for sure.
The writing centers are really unique and a safe space for any student of any grade level to come in and talk through whatever kind of writing assignment they have, whatever kind of reading questions they have. All people are nervous to show their writing to other people. So I think that when kids come in the first time, there are obviously, there are fears that they're going to be criticized, “Oh this is wrong,” or, “This comma is wrong.”
When in fact what we do is much more talk through the process. Once they realize how helpful it is to talk through their process and that we're not there to tear their writing apart. We're actually there to build them up and try to help them improve. Then they wanna come back and they become repeat customers.
Another wonderful element of the writing center is just the informal interactions that end up happening there for the students who come in and get help with their paper. Stay an extra five minutes and maybe talk to an upperclassman that they normally wouldn't interact with. So it provides a very academic, useful purpose, but also a recreational one and a social purpose as well. Again, that's just the power. Another aspect of the power of the peer to peer element of a good writing center.
You know, every year we get kids coming back from college and telling us how well prepared they were as writers. I just had a kid who got the best freshman essay at Notre Dame.
I've never heard of any of my friends at other schools being involved in a writing center, having peer tutors like that. It's funny because my friends outside of school know that I’m the student director here and they'll send me their papers and be like, please help. I don't know what I'm doing. So, it’s funny.
Our thanks to Ella, all The Writing Center tutors, their mentors in the English department at Oak Knoll, and all the students who avail themselves of The Writing Center at Oak Knoll.
Well, that wraps it up for today. Thank you for joining us for this episode of The Happy Kid Project. To learn more about Oak Knoll and how the school is committed to working on development of the whole child, from academics to social emotional, to athletics and the arts, to nurturing a sense of service, to help others with purpose, visit www.oakknoll.org.