Write Place undergoes changes to expand outreach

Junior Write Place consultant Ellen Zhang assists junior Miles Denbow with his writing.

Aimee Liu | The Chronicle

The Write Place is making strides toward becoming the right place for students to get help with writing.

Mason High School (MHS) English teacher Allison Catalino created The Write Place in 2018, and said it is “a student-led writing center that has excellent student consultants who can help with any type of writing.”

The Write Place is located in room A312 and is available during first, fourth and seventh bells, as well as Connect Time each week. Students can sign up for appointments through a Google Form on The Write Place website, or submit work digitally and receive virtual feedback. In addition to individual consultations, The Write Place also offers classroom visits per teacher request.

English teacher TJ Wilson, one of the advisors for The Write Place, said that these sessions in English classrooms have been positive learning experiences for both students and teachers.

“We come in whenever [teachers] want us to, and just brainstorm with [students] or try to be good conversationalists,” Wilson said. “We usually change a lot of minds when we come in, and it’s a really good experience.”

The Write Place at MHS began when Catalino, who previously worked as a writing center supervisor at a high school in Chicago, decided to create a similar space to help students with any element of writing.

“Every college in the local area and across the country has a center for writing,” Catalino said. “I think if we get into the practice of using that resource while you’re in high school, the options are limitless when you potentially move on to college.”

When The Write Place was first created, Catalino said there was a multitude of invested tutors, and the center was open every bell. The week before the school closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Write Place had even gotten permission to assist middle school students during one bell.

Throughout and following the pandemic, Catalino said the success of The Write Place was halted, and they could not offer full services.

“We’re working our way back towards full availability, with all bells every day,” Catalino said. “We’ll get there. We’ve got a lot of great tutors this year who are really invested, so I’m excited about it.”

Along with Wilson and English teacher Patricia George, Catalino has continued to work on rebuilding The Write Place back to where it was. After a recent trip to Milford to see the writing center there, Catalino said they are making several changes to hopefully continue growing their space.

“I think a lot of our changes are going to be in how our space feels when you walk in,” Catalino said. “We’re also going to take a lot of [Milford’s] training materials for our tutors to help them feel like they really own the space and that they’re confident to do what we know that they can do.”

This concept of student ownership is also important to Catalino, who has been shifting The Write Place to a more student-led operation. She said that after taking a year off for the pandemic, she is hoping to give new consultants more control of the space.

“Last year we had to reintroduce our mission, vision and values to our new tutors, but we’re slowly transitioning,” Catalino said. “I can see in the future that it will shift and the ownership will largely be with students next year.”

Junior Ellen Zhang, a Write Place consultant, said that although the advisors are involved with a lot of the logistics behind the program, the students also have significant say in making and implementing decisions.

“Since we’re such a small group, there’s a lot of opportunity for leadership,” Zhang said. “It’s very free, and one of the original goals of the club was to provide students who enjoy writing a chance to experience that in a place where they can do what they really love to do.”

In addition to opening all seven bells and giving students more control of the space, The Write Place is also hoping to implement other changes, including adding a coffee machine, posting whiteboard signs across the school, creating videos, getting the word out to English teachers, developing a more consistent training routine for new consultants and possibly hosting writing contests.

“This year has been all about finding the best way to do things,” Catalino said. “We’re hoping to get our consultants face to face with students and teachers to really showcase who we are, what we do, and how we can help in the classroom.”

George, who began her involvement with The Write Place in 2020, said that with these changes, she ultimately hopes the center can be a comfortable place for students to not only receive writing help but also hang out.

“No matter where we land, we want to make [The Write Place] more inviting,” George said. “We want to create a relaxed vibe because I think when you’re relaxed, that’s when you can write your best.”

Catalino said the skills associated with writing extend far beyond English class themselves. Whether it is other subjects, communication, or future jobs, she said that the impact of writing can often be taken for granted.

“Writing is cross-curricular, and if you want to be taken seriously at any job, the skill of writing is pivotal,” Catalino said. “I think sometimes that’s a bit overlooked.”

Along with writing skills, the advisors of The Write Place also emphasize the importance of conversation and forming peer-to-peer connections. George said that the consultants at The Write Place are not only great writers but also great human beings.

“[Our consultants] approach a student’s piece with kindness and empathy,” George said. “There’s a lot of power when you are working one-on-one with someone like you.”

Wilson said that the uncertainty and subjectivity of writing can make it difficult for students to approach the subject, but that having someone there to be a guide can give writers “more tools in their tool belt.” He said that he hopes The Write Place can become a safe space for anyone who may need help with writing in any regard.

“There are so many unknowns in writing,” Wilson said. “It’s just about trying and failing, and if you talk to somebody, you feel safer and more confident doing that. Writing is intimidating, but we want to build people and help the community first.”

In the future, Zhang said that she hopes students will continue to feel more comfortable reaching out to The Write Place. She said that writing is such a crucial part of the school, and getting help with it can be a useful tool.

“Our biggest goal is to make [The Write Place] more widely accessible,” Zhang said. “My hope for the program is that if any student throughout the school is doing a writing project, they have the awareness that they always have a resource that they can reach out to.”

As an English teacher and lifelong writer, George said that she does not agree with the mentality that students need to be naturally gifted writers to succeed at writing. George said that as The Write Place grows, she hopes to see students’ apprehension toward writing diminish.

“The more you work at the craft, the better you get,” George said. “I see The Write Place as a foot in the door to understanding that writing, like anything else, just takes practice. If you’re committed to getting better at it, you definitely will.”

Photo by Alisha Soni