Connecticut Writing Project moves to Fairfield University


The Connecticut Writing Project, (CWP), a professional development program for teachers in K-13 dedicated to improving writing and learning skills in our nation's schools, is moving its base of operations to Fairfield University this summer.

The CWP, a branch of the National Writing Project, operates on a teachers-teaching-teachers model and consists of four components:

  1. the Invitational Institute, a four-week program open to already accomplished writing teachers who must apply for admission;
  2. the Urban Institute, geared to educators in urban schools;
  3. the Early Literacy Institute, for teachers in grades K-3; and,
  4. the Open Institute, a two-week refresher course for those who have already completed the program but seek advanced skills.

In addition, CWP sponsors a Young Writer's Program for middle schoolers which, this year, is serving 20 pupils from throughout southwestern Connecticut.

"Our affiliation with Fairfield University is a mutual benefit," said Project Director Faye Gage, who began CWP at the University of Connecticut's Stamford branch 15 years ago. "It's a particularly good match for us because Fairfield has a large Graduate School of Education and a program for undergraduate teachers," she explained. "We can take advantage of its faculty's expertise, especially in the areas of research and theory, and CWP can bring the practitioner's eye to the direction of courses for teachers."

Margaret Deignan, Ph.D., dean of Fairfield University's Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions, has enthusiastically welcomed the CWP to campus, especially as it can utilize the university's English Department which has a distinguished faculty of published authors with specialties in creative writing, poetry, journalism and professional writing.

Beverly Kahn, Ph.D., acting dean of Fairfield University's College of Arts and Sciences, who was also instrumental in bringing CWP to the University, is equally excited about the enrichment the partnership brings. "Literacy is the foundation of school and workplace success, of citizenship in a democracy and of learning in all disciplines," she said.

"Also," she added, "modern technology has increased the need for students to read and write coherently. The Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University focuses on the teaching of writing for practicing teachers while providing a model for ongoing professional development which builds independent local programs."

CWP operates with a staff of four administrators all of whom are actively employed in other professions: Gage, the Language Arts and English Coordinator for the Town of Greenwich; and three co-directors: Bob Wilson, chairman of the English Department at Greenwich High School; Bob McCarthy, the writing specialist for the Darien school system; and Betsy Bowen, Ph.D., an associate professor of English at Fairfield University and a former participant in the Maine Writing Project. CWP also boasts a hard-working board of 15 and a part-time administrative assistant. "It's a labor of love!" said Gage, whose face lights up when she talks about the program's accomplishments, that is, "children who have finally found their voice through writing."

This summer, CWP will train more than 200 teachers, many of whom will go out into the community and conduct professional development workshops for other teachers using the skills they've learned.

Schools that have participated in the project have shown measurable results in the Connecticut Mastery Tests. For example, at the New Lebanon School in Greenwich, writing test scores jumped from 29 to 72 percent in one year, and, at Roton School in Norwalk, test scores went from the lowest in the city to the highest. And, according to Gage, there were dramatic increases in test scores in Ridgefield, Torrington and New Fairfield high schools.

Gage said, "New teachers who have graduated in the past eight to ten years have more knowledge of writing than in the past, but schools of education still only require minimal courses for teaching that skill. In prior years the focus was on training educators to teach literature and grammar. Writing is still the stepchild," she explained, "but CWP has dedicated itself to changing that!"

CWP is funded by grants from the Connecticut State Legislature, the National Writing Project and the Connecticut State Department of Education. The site at Fairfield is considered geographically convenient as teachers commute from communities in southwestern Connecticut from Waterbury to New Haven, from Stamford to Danbury and all points in between, in addition to some from Westchester County.

The national project, which to date has trained more than two million teachers, was founded at the University of California at Berkeley in 1974. It is conducted at 161 sites in 47 states and Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico and each year serves 100,000 teachers from grades K-16 in all disciplines.

One measure of the project's effectiveness is the number of teachers who voluntarily spend their summer vacations, weekends and after-class time in the program. The ultimate beneficiaries of both the national and state projects are the students. For more information on CWP, call Faye Gage at (203) 254-4000, ext. 3124 or (203) 625-7484.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on July 15, 2000

Vol. 33, No. 1