Volunteering with the writer’s edge


By Madeline Murphy Smith
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Some University of Iowa students will get the chance to interact and teach K-12 students in a new course called Writers in the Community.

The Iowa Youth Writing Project and the Magid Center for Undergraduate Writing have joined to offer the brand-new course at the university.

Mallory Hellman, the director of the Iowa Youth Writing Program, said the course is designed for students to go into the Iowa City community and help students in grades K-12 schools improve their writing and communication skills.

The program offers an orientation a week before the class starts so students enrolled can get a feel for the school before they start volunteering. Each week, students discuss the role they will play in the classroom and go through teaching techniques so they are better prepared when they are in the classroom with students.

Hellman said the most exciting aspect of this course for students is applying all they have learned in the  real world. Students will spend an hour with the kindergarten and first-grade students at Twain Elementary.

“They are extremely fun-loving bunch,” she said. “The kids are interested in activities that integrate movement and hands-on activities with writing, so it’s fun for volunteers to make lesson plans based on that.”

Daniel Khalastchi, the associate director of the Magid Center, said that before Writers in the Community, the center and the youth program had collaborated to create a course called Writing with Purpose.

That class was a unique three-semester-hour class that allowed undergraduates the chance to learn everything from teaching techniques to valuable workplace experience to what it means to commit to something larger than themselves.

“As this class gained in popularity, we created a one-semester-hour version called Writers in the Community,” Khalastchi said. “This class — like Writing with Purpose — gives students the chance to volunteer for class credit, but more importantly, it allows our UI undergrads to give back to the community they live in.”

Hellman said she didn’t expect students would be eager to continue volunteering at the schools beyond the course’s conclusion.

“Two students who took it before stayed and are still volunteering in the classroom,” she said. “They are committed to spending more time with the little kids they met in class. We’re taking that as a good sign.”

If UI students are interested in volunteering but don’t know if they can commit to a full semester, Hellman said, she believes this course is a great alternative.

“This is a great way to get your feet wet, because it might be something you want to try in the future,” she said.

Khalastchi said he looks forward to working with more UI students who are interested in helping young people improve their writing and communication skills as well as helping them foster a love of language.

“We look forward to working with more UI students who are interested in serving their community and connecting to their own education on a more personal, visceral, and exciting level,” he said.

UI student Alison Cassidy, a part of the class, said that even though it has only gone to Twain Elementary once so far, she has found plenty of things to enjoy.

“It’s been really great to see their enthusiasm as kids who are just now learning about stories, and storytelling, and sort of getting into writing for the very first time, and it’s great to be surrounded by that energy,” she said. “They’re all wonderful and brilliant and crazy in the best way.”

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