This year marks the 20th anniversary of Writing Coaches of Missoula, a nonprofit organization that trains community volunteers to work individually with student writers in middle and high school classrooms throughout Missoula County. We work one-on-one with each student in the class, coaching them through first and second drafts on classroom writing assignments. Our aim is to help students become critical thinkers and confident, competent writers.

The ability to write clearly is vital to success in all walks of life. Teachers today are faced with the daunting task of responding to complex, multi-draft writing assignments from more than 125 students a day. It’s not possible for them to provide the individualized attention that good writing instruction requires. Our coaches help bridge this gap between student needs and teaching resources, providing (on average) up to two hours of coaching per student.

Additionally, coaching connects students with outside community members who bring fresh perspectives and valuable life experience to the classroom. Says Hellgate High School English teacher Britt Hanford, “The best part, by far, is providing the students with an opportunity to sit with a community member who is excited about writing, helping and inviting the kids to take the time that they often don't have (or make) to read the essay aloud and defend their choices.”

Similarly, coaches have the opportunity to directly channel their own skills into supporting public education across Missoula County. There is nothing more rewarding than watching students discover their voice, or to experience that “aha” moment as they make the connection between what they want to say and how to write it. By engaging students in one-on-one conversations about their writing, coaches encourage students to discover solutions to their writing problems. They also increase student confidence and competence in their ability to communicate clearly and effectively in writing.

In the past few years, Writing Coaches of Missoula has grown from a handful of volunteers to more than 150 trained coaches. Our coaches include engineers, doctors, teachers, journalists, lawyers, homemakers and therapists. Volunteers attend a three-hour training session conducted by University of Montana writing professors and receive professional development and support throughout the year. Coaches decide when and how often they would like to coach and have the opportunity to work with a variety of students throughout the school year.

It’s a gift to be able to connect to enthusiastic young thinkers and writers. If you would like to become a writing coach, sign up for our training session on Thursday, Nov. 5, 6:30-9:30 p.m. To register or for more information, contact executive director Diane Benjamin at writingcoachesofmissoula@gmail.com.

We also welcome donations to support our work. Although our writing coaches are volunteers, Writing Coaches of Missoula must pay for recruiting and training coaches, scheduling more than 3,500 individual student/coach meetings annually, and ensuring that we provide reliable, professional services to students and teachers. Support from Missoula County Public Schools currently covers about one-fourth of our operating expenses, but the remainder comes from donations, great and small. Tax deductible checks in any amount can be made payable to Writing Coaches of Missoula and sent to: PO Box 7592, Missoula, MT, 59807.

This opinion is signed by the Writing Coaches of Missoula board of directors: Linda Whittlesey, Michelle Miewald, Catherine Filardi, Barbara Berens, Beverly Chin, Marie Porter, Toni Rehbein, Jana Staton and Bethanie Walder.

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