Better Preparing College Bound Students in Porterville

A Need in Porterville

Porterville College has partnered with the San Joaquin Valley Writing Project (SJVWP) to help strengthen the school to college pipeline in the rural Porterville area. According to Dr. Juliet Wahleithner, SJVWP Director, the best way to help students better prepare for college is to better prepare their teachers.

Porterville Unified School District serves a high-needs population: 82.7% of students qualify for free or reduced price meals, 27.5% identify as English Learners, and just 35% of high school graduates are CSU/UC qualified.

Porterville Summer Writing Academy

Wahleithner and Catherine Hodges, Professor at Porterville College, spent the past two years working to develop the Porterville Summer Writing Academy (PSWA). The PSWA was for Porterville-area secondary teachers and students with the focus to develop teachers’ knowledge of and pedagogy for argument writing in all content areas. The goal was to help change teacher’s instructional practice to better meet the needs of this student population and thus better prepare students for college-level writing.

Teachers and students from all over the Porterville region benefitted from this program; from cities spanning from Terra Bella to Lemon Cove.

In week one, SJVWP Teacher Leaders led a four-day workshop focused on teaching argument writing to 9 teachers, with an emphasis on how to target the needs of english learning students.

In week two, the Teacher Leaders worked with the teachers to lead four-hour writing workshops for 17 middle and high school students. The focus of these workshops was argument writing, with a secondary emphasis on creative writing in sessions led by guest writers.

“The students were absolutely amazing. The level of intensity, the level of writing, I was actually not prepared for. What I ended up doing was to give them Masters-level work, and they were up to the task. They created poetry on the fly, they were able to take in big concepts like image, clarity and they did fantastic.” James Tyner, Fresno Poet Laureate and PSWA guest writer

During the workshops, the teachers applied what they learned from week one with students and the support of one another. Each afternoon, the teachers were debriefed about the day and planed the next day’s instruction. The intent was to embed discussions of best practices to support english learners in their writing development.

“The most useful part of the PSWA was being able to use the tools that were presented in week 1 into a live session with students. We had an opportunity to see the same lesson taught by a different teacher. By allowing us to see the lesson, one is able to see what we would like to change to the lesson. … This was an amazing experience that is extremely helpful for new teachers. This was an experience that will help with my development as a teacher and isn’t always available for new teachers at small district.” – Lizette S., English Language Arts Teacher, PSWA participant

The PSWA student participants improved their writing, explored the power of words, and developed their knowledge of argument writing. They also learned strategies to improve their writing in all classes.

“Students produced some beautiful work. They proved to us teachers that they are very excited about the writing process itself and about expressing themselves. I believe that as we give people the tools to improve their writing, those tools become critical in their writing, and transfer into compassionate thinking and good lives.”- Professor Catherine Hodges, Porterville College

Improving a student’s ability to be prepared for college-level writing starts with a teacher. 

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