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English class mentors high school students

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Rebecca Nobel | Arizona Daily Wildcat

Cooper Temple, a freshman political science and economics major, and Naomi Lee, a Sunnyside High School senior, peer edit each other’s essays in the Main Library on Tuesday, January 28th.

UA students are getting the opportunity to share their knowledge with the high school community.

Wildcat Writers is a college outreach and access program that works to facilitate partnerships between high school teachers and UA professors. The program was founded nine years ago by a UA graduate student and a local high school teacher

The program aims to create a more comfortable atmosphere for high school students who may soon be transitioning to college, and to show those students what to expect when writing at a college level, according to Rachael Wendler, Wildcat Writers coordinator.

The program works as a mentorship between UA students and high school students from local high schools. Roughly 350-500 UA and high school students and 16-28 teachers participate in the program each year, from local high schools such as Desert View High School, Amphitheater High School, Sunnyside High School and Marana High School. The program collaborates with high schools that may not have access to the same educational materials as other local Tucson high schools.

“We are working with primarily first generation college students and students from underrepresented groups,” said Jessica Shumake, English department lecturer and member of the advisory board for the program. “Sunnyside Unified School District is part of that mission for outreach and college writing and access for students who might not otherwise have all the same educational privileges as students in other high schools locally.”

Shumake has been participating in the program for three years and has her English 109H class collaborate with Kurt Fischer’s AP Literature class at Sunnyside High School. The high school students build personal relationships with the college students, providing and receiving constructive criticism on assignments. High school students get a taste of the college experience by coming to campus on a series of field trips throughout the semester to meet with their college mentors face to face.

“That relationship with somebody who has been through the first year [of college] can help with retention, the transition and feeling successful,” Shumake said.

Wendler said the program could also address racial inequalities.

“The number of people in Arizona who are Latino is pretty high, and then if you look at the number at UA, it’s very low,” Wendler said. “So there’s some kind of inequity happening there, that students don’t have access to college education, and we see that as a huge problem.”

Wendler added that the UA is a land grant institution, meaning that it was originally founded to serve the local community.

“We see it as part of our mission and identity to work to connect with the community and be a force for justice when there’s these inequalities happening and people don’t have access to higher education,” Wendler said.

Wildcat Writers is mainly funded by the UA Writing Program but occasionally receives small grants such as the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs grant, which helps keeps the program afloat, Wendler added.

Jennifer Evans, a physiology junior, participated in Wildcat Writers for two semesters and said the most rewarding part of the program was helping students grow from high school writers into college writers.

“We showed them what the bar is for writing in college, and I think that’s really helpful so that they can converse at a higher level and know what to expect in college writing,” Evans said. “It was really cool to see how they would take your criticism to heart to be able to go further.”

The benefits of the mentorship extend to the college students, giving them a larger audience of peers to share their work with, and makes the class more exciting and hands-on, Shumake said.

“It makes the requirement more exciting: Great student engagement, a way to get involved and meet people in Tucson and learn about the community,” Shumake said. “It’s more about relationships, [rather] than only ideas.”


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