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September 21, 1998

UCSC writing faculty and Merced educators unite to steer students toward college

By Barbara McKenna

Although it will be another eight years before UC's Merced campus is operational, many educators in the Central Valley area are already feeling a positive impact from the school.

Among them are the 15 Merced-area teachers and principals who came to UCSC for three days in mid-August to participate in a writing institute sponsored by UCSC's Central California Writing Project.

Attending the institute were junior high and high school teachers and administrators from Merced County, Santa Cruz area teachers, and UCSC writing faculty. The event was organized by UCSC lecturers in writing Roswell Spafford, Cecilia Freeman, and Donald Rothman and focused on strategies for teaching writing to high school and college students. CCWP staff members Robin Drury and Carol Artman provided heroic support.

Along with discussing pedagogy, the group also explored ways of raising the college-going rates for Merced County students, whose odds of going to college are critically low. The college-going rates for students from the Central Valley range between 5 and 10 percent and are a mere 3 percent for Merced County.

"In partnership with UC, we have established a goal of doubling that rate by the year 2005," said Sylvia Smith, executive director of instructional services for Merced's Union High School Districts.

"UCSC has been proactive in establishing a relationship with us and helping us identify this goal and take the necessary steps to meet it," Smith said. The first project of real scope occurred last month through the CCWP institute, which Smith called inspirational, noting, "The effort and expertise the university has invested in us are phenomenal and have already had a transformational effect on our teachers."

Among the workshop presenters were Carol Freeman, chair of UCSC's Writing Program, who discussed heuristics--ways of developing deeper ideas to inspire quality writing; Julie Minnis, an English teacher at Santa Cruz High School and CCWP teacher/consultant, who presented a workshop on integrating the reading of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness with current events in the Congo; and Michael Warren, a UCSC professor of literature, who presented a talk and discussion on Much Ado About Nothing just before the group attended a performance of the play by Shakespeare Santa Cruz. Also working at the event was Writing Program lecturer Susan Kimoto.

"This institute was extremely valuable just by virtue of bringing these teachers together so that they could share ideas," said Donald Rothman, head of CCWP. "It's very easy for teachers to despair of having success in teaching writing in the absence of innovative and honest models and examples. My writing program colleagues who have had success and can share strategies are inspirational. The most wonderful thing about this workshop is that it was immediately useful to both university and high school teachers--both in giving them ideas to use and in boosting morale."

More workshops are planned, Rothman says, and there are a number of other projects in the works between Merced teachers and such UCSC units as Admissions, the Language Program, and the Math Department. Chair of the Education Department and special assistant to the chancellor Joyce Justus and Admissions director J. Michael Thompson have been instrumental in sparking these efforts, which were conceived through visits they made to Merced during the last academic year.

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