If you read the article about the Writing Coaches of Missoula in the Sept. 8 Missoulian, you know that the organization is gearing up to expand its work with Missoula County Public Schools middle schools this year. Writing coaches will meet one on one with as many eighth graders as possible in an all-out effort to help strengthen students' writing skills for high school and beyond.
To date, 2,300 coaching sessions have been scheduled for 2011-12, and more are expected to be added as the academic year progresses. More than ever before, volunteers are needed to meet the demands of such an aggressive plan.
My family moved two teenagers to Missoula five years ago. Since I knew nothing about the local schools, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see the inside of my children's new school, as a writing coach with the then-Hellgate Writing Center. I soon discovered I had joined a group of innovative, dynamic volunteers who share a passion for working with students to develop critical thinking skills as an essential component of the writing process. Wow!
My children have since graduated, but I continue to coach, and the small writing center has grown beyond the halls of Hellgate to Big Sky and Sentinel high schools, Seeley Lake, and now C.S. Porter, Meadow Hill and Washington middle schools.
The benefits to all involved in the coaching experience are immeasurable. When was the last time you were invited to sit down for a private conversation with a teenager, to hear his or her thoughts? To discuss ideas, provide encouragement and guidance? I've learned that it can be life-changing for both parties.
I can't think of a better gift we could give our students than the undivided attention of an adult - other than a parent or teacher - who cares enough to listen and offer insight. Community involvement in promoting literacy is vital to the success of the 21st century initiative model adopted by MCPS, which also makes Writing Coaches of Missoula an invaluable resource for our teachers and schools.
You don't have to be a professional writer to be a writing coach, and you don't have to commit to a set number of hours. We accept parents, students, teachers, working professionals, retirees, community leaders and just about anyone who possesses proficient writing skills and the desire to invest a little time to enhance education for middle school and high school students. Training sessions for new writing coaches will be held at the University of Montana on Oct. 10, 15 and 29, so now is a the time to get on board.
If you are interested in becoming a coach, contact email@example.com. For more information about Writing Coaches of Missoula, visit www.writingcoaches. wordpress.com.
Jan Utter of Missoula is a volunteer for Writing Coaches of Missoula.