Writing Center tutors partner with young writing coaches at Baltimore-area school

April 13, 2010

McDaniel Writing Center tutor Rebecca Tilyou, a junior Psychology major, says the best part of helping students at a Baltimore-area school establish their own writing center is that she feels like she is passing along valuable tools, insight and encouragement to the teen-aged writers.

Tilyou and several other tutors from McDaniel’s Writing Center have been mentoring and advising a half-dozen students from St. Paul’s School for Girls to help create the school’s first writing center and what is thought to be the only writing center at a girls-only school in the Baltimore region.

The partnership is a prime example of how McDaniel students are eager to collaborate with others in surrounding communities – and, in the process, gain valuable experience to apply to their own lives.

From brainstorming ideas to giving tips on how to decorate the space to make it as comfortable and inviting as possible, Tilyou and the other McDaniel students have been instrumental in helping the St. Paul’s girls.

“We told them they have to meet their clients wherever they are because some students will bring papers that are great and need very few changes, while others may require an additional appointment to allow time for the extra work,” Tilyou recalled in a recent interview.

Tilyou said another key piece of advice that she offered was, “always be prepared.” Writing tutors must always have within reach the resources they need, such as a thesaurus, she said.

She also advised the girls not to be intimidated by the work involved.

“I told them to take it all in stride,” she said. “We also told them to put out candy and stress ball so it’s not such an intimidating experience for the students coming to their writing center.”

The students from St. Paul’s School for Girls have taken the advice to heart. For one, the writing center received a much-needed transformation. The center – a small space that once was used to store boxes – was outfitted with a purple shag rug, orange pillows and lots of polka-dotted decorations to help make the room cozy.

After completing a comprehensive application process and undergoing training, six dedicated student-coaches – five juniors and one sophomore – opened the St. Paul School for Girls Writing Lab on March 29. They held more than a dozen coaching sessions during that first week.

“This is an opportunity to let students help students,” said Shawna Garliss, St. Paul’s interim writing lab director. “It’s really an opportunity for students to ask those questions they might otherwise feel too awkward to ask a teacher. They can feel free to be creative and get ideas, but not feel like they have to use those ideas as they might feel if the ideas were coming from a teacher.”

Garliss said she was especially appreciative of the time Lisa Breslin – director of McDaniel’s Writing Center – spent offering advice and training. Breslin and several McDaniel students visited St. Paul’s to work with the girls and also hosted them on the Hill so they could check out the set-up of McDaniel’s Writing Center.

With the help of Breslin and tutors from McDaniel’s Writing Center, Garliss said St. Paul’s students are gaining additional skills to take well into their futures.

“We are able to give our girls yet another skill that will help prepare them for college, where writing centers are very prevalent,” Garliss said. “That was another incentive for us to do this.”