Emergent Writers Professional Learning

From Young Writers Camp to Young Adult Literacy Labs: CT Connecticut-Fairfield Finds New Ways to Revitalize Youth Programs


CT Connecticut-Fairfield redesigns Young Writers’ Camps and raises interest, enrollment, and income. This excerpt provides details of the Labs they designed and how they dovetailed with the Invitational Summer Institute.

In 2014, CWP-Fairfield revisited its model for its Young Writers’ Institute and moved from two, two-week programs for 6th-12th grade to 11 genre-based Young Adult Literacy Labs. Our previous model brought 50-60 young writers to our campus where instructors offered a pastiche of writing instruction for half a day. Drawing from research at Syracuse University (Co-planning and Co-teaching in a Summer Writing Institute: a Formative Experiment)—a project inspired by the National Writing Project model ­– CWP-Fairfield asked itself, “How can we rethink traditional summer programming for young writers so that it is beneficial to both students and teachers? How can such programming help CWP-Fairfield to economically sustain itself?”

Rather than offering two, two-week institutes for young writers and a five-week Invitational Summer Institute for teachers, CWP-Fairfield now offers 12 Young Adult Literacy Labs (YALL) over a period of five weeks: Little Lab for Big Imaginations I, Little Lab for Big Imaginations II, Speak Yourself – a Spoken Word Lab, It Was a Dark & Stormy Night – Write Your Own Novel (or 1st chapter) I & II, A Graphic Novel Lab, Stop The Presses! Journalism I & II, Project Citizen, The TedX Lab, Ubuntu Academy, and The College Essay. While young people arrive for each lab, teachers who attend the Invitational Summer Institute are given direct access to the lab instructors (who also provide teacher demonstrations throughout the summer) and students are given greater access to a wide variety of teachers on campus for summer professional development (for more details, see You Gotta Write! POW! A Teen Program that works presentation given at the Kentucky Writing Project in Lexington, Kentucky, attached as a .pdf).

A CWP-Fairfield teacher and/or professional writer instruct each lab.

Teachers in the ISI, too, no longer come for four weeks, every day. They now come for five weeks, three days a week with four-day weekends offered every week. This, teachers report, is an effective and welcomed change because they feel they have part of their summer break given back to them. Leaders of the ISI pair the readings/conversations/demonstrations with the YALLs occurring each week. Every Wednesday, too, the young writers in the labs attend a writing conference with a teacher in the ISI. Writing is shared workshop-style, suggestions are made, and both students and teachers return to their rooms and reflect on the conferences. They offer feedback to one another on how it went: what worked, what didn’t work, and how such conferences can be made better.

YALLs are effective from a financial standpoint, too. In 2014, CWP-Fairfield increased youth participation from 60 students to 112 students. This summer, 2015, our site served 152 young people from southern Connecticut. Additionally, 1/3rd of the youth participants received full or partial scholarship. In total, 16 school districts were represented, meeting our direct commitment for more outreach this year. Each lab costs $350 (and is based on the lower end of costs for summer camps in our region). We provide discounts for siblings and the children of teachers. Instructors are paid $1,000 a week and become responsible for the following:

  • Kids must write each day,
  • Kids must talk to one another every day,
  • Kids must read every day,
  • Kids must HAVE FUN (it’s summer, after all),
  • Kids must design a “prom” each Friday to share their writing with others,
  • Kids must choose best writing to be published in Power of Words (our summer publication),
  • Kids and parents must evaluate the program,
  • Teachers need to share curriculum with CWP and reflect on their teaching.

After paying 20 instructors to lead YALLs this summer, CWP-Fairfield made a profit of $14,449, helping to supplement those funds that were once provided through state and federal investment.

See http://cwpfairfield.org/?page_id=74 for more details on innovative Young Writers’ Programs.