CRWP Continues with its Third Annual Invitational Summer Institute

Penny Lew (right) consults over a podcasting project with Liz Brockman.

Monday, June 2oth marked the kick-off of the Chippewa River Writing Project’s third annual Summer Institute on the Mt. Pleasant campus of Central Michigan University.  For the team of nine teacher participants, the opening week has been just the beginning of an exhilarating journey of self-discovery.  Under the mentorship of leadership team members Liz Brockman, Sue Steffel, Penny Lew, and Kathy Kurtze, participants have had the opportunity to take part in intensive workshopping, lesson development, and collaborative writing.  For writers like Sheri Kuchek, the Summer Institute has been a time for both reaffirmation and renewal.

“I love writing and the opportunity to interact with my peers beyond the classroom,” notes Kuchek, who is currently taking graduate courses through CMU’s English program.  “It’s great for my self-esteem to be able to get positive feedback from my peers.  It reaffirms my talents.”

Alongside collaboration, technology continues to be a key component in the Summer Institute’s overall vision. Throughout their time together, participants gain experience with a variety of digital tools they can take back to their classrooms, including wikis, audio podcasting, video streaming, and Google Docs.

Sue Steffel (left) and Rebecca Conway collaborate over a writing project.

“Technology is a challenge, but it’s a valuable one,” notes Kuchek, in considering what it means to be a writer in the 21st century.  “It’s a struggle that opens up so many new avenues we can use with our peers and our students.”

The greatest value for participants, however, is the opportunity for growth—as both instructors and as individuals cultivating a lifelong love of writing.  Alma elementary school teacher Kristen Case sums up the SI experience best when she notes, “Being immersed in the tech has helped me to learn an amazing amount of new tools that I will use in the classroom, and in my own life as well.”

The Summer Institute will culminate in a celebratory luncheon on July 7th, when participants will share selections from their electronic Writer’s Portfolios and join one another in a screening of their digital storytelling projects.  For more information on the SI 2011, check out our wiki at


CRWP Teachers Advocate for Continued NWP Funding

From The Chronicle of Higher Education
Photo provided by The Chronicle of Higher Education

While the debate continues about the funding for the National Writing Project, teacher leaders from the Chippewa River Writing project have made their support of the national network known in a variety of ways, from face-to-face meetings in Washington D.C. to interviews with national media, and participation in a grassroots blogging effort.

2011 NWP Spring Meeting

As a small part of a much larger contingent of teacher leaders from other National Writing Project sites in Michigan, four Chippewa River Writing Project leaders participated in the 2011 NWP Spring Meeting this past month in Washington D.C. Erin Busch-Grabmeyer, Kathy Kurtze, Sara Beauchamp-Hicks, and Troy Hicks journeyed to the nation’s capital to join hundreds of other NWP leaders in their annual congressional visits.

During the course of their visits, these leaders were able to meet with legislative aides from the offices of Representatives Dave Camp, Bill Huizenga, and Dan Benishek as well as Senators Levin and Stabenow. They shared stories of success from their own classrooms that were a direct result of participation in CRWP and NWP professional development and established relationships with these aides for future discussions about the substantive effects of the federal investment in NWP on their teaching practice and student success.

National Media Attention

Published on April 24, 2011, The Chronicle of Higher Education featured the Chippewa River Writing Project as a focal site in an article about the continuing NWP funding situation:”National Writing Project Is Innocent Victim in War on Earmarks, Educators Say.”

The loss of federal funds for a national project that seeks to improve how writing is taught could damage the quality of students’ writing on college cam­puses and in elementary and secondary schools, say faculty members who are now urging lawmakers to reconsider. And the cut, which Congress and President Obama made last month as part of their war on earmarks, comes amid growing concerns about the state of students’ writing.

CRWP Director, Troy Hicks, and one of our K-12 Co-Directors, Kathy Kurtze, were both interviewed for the piece. Subscribers to the Chronicle can access this premium content.

To find out the latest on the NWP Funding situation, please visit the NWP Works! Ning and view this video from April 30, 2011, where NWP’s Executive Director, Sharon Washington, is interviewed on C-Span.

Finding Our Voice: The #blog4nwp Initiative

Additionally, CRWP teachers have been contributing to the blogging effort: “#blog4nwp” (with archives available at the Cooperative Catalyst blog).

Our #blog4nwp campaign began as a mid-March weekend push to restore federal funding to the National Writing Project (NWP). At the beginning of March – as part of a continuing resolution to fund the government during its budget impasse – Congress and President Obama cut funding to the NWP and several other educational programs considered to be “earmarks” – programs that receive their funding directly from Congressional legislation, rather than from a departmental budget.

CRWP teachers who have blogged include:

Troy Hicks was also featured as a guest on the weekly webcast, “Teachers Teaching Teachers,” on March 30, 2011, in their episode: “Why we love the National Writing Project and why Federal funding is important.”

Future CRWP Plans

While the situation for federal funding for the National Writing Project is still very much up in the air, CRWP leaders have decided to use our limited NWP funds for this year to sponsor our summer institute and plan for continued professional development in the 2011-12 school year.

We continue to look forward despite the uncertain future that we face, and we appreciate the support of CMU administrators and K-16 educators and colleagues in our region.


Chippewa River Writing Project Teacher Spotlight: Debbi Meister

Debbi Meister, celebrating her achievement with friends and colleagues during the CRWP holiday event.

This past holiday season brought even more to celebrate this year for Chippewa River Writing Project team member Debbi Meister.

Meister, a teacher at Fellowship Baptist Academy in Carson City and alum of the CRWP 2009 Summer Institute, recently completed her master’s degree program at Central Michigan University.  CRWP team members joined Meister in the celebration during their annual holiday party on December 14th.

For Meister, the conclusion of her master’s work is both exhilarating and edifying.  “It’s a great sense of relief, and a great sense of accomplishment as well,” she confesses with a smile.

However, while the holidays offered her a little time to relax, Meister isn’t about to take a break.  She is currently planning how to integrate her experiences as a graduate student into her own secondary-level classroom.  “I really appreciate that I was able to construct a program that I could use in my teaching because I really wanted practical classes that I could use in high school,” Meister observes.  “I was able to get a really wide variety of classes at Central.  I got a combination of composition, reading, and literature.”

Meister’s culminating paper reflects this integration of ideas.  Under the supervision of literature professor Kristen McDermott, she explored the representation of social attitudes in Jane Austen’s novels as reflected in character response to landscape design.

Motivated by her daughter’s experience with the Red Cedar Writing Project’s Summer Institute, Meister felt certain that the CRWP Summer Institute would offer her a valuable support system as she pursued her graduate work.  This ultimately led to her decision to join CRWP’s Summer Institute in 2009.

“The SI was great for me in terms of encouragement and motivation,” notes Meister.  “Both in light of my role as a writer and in helping me complete my master’s.”

Since her participation in the 2009 summer institute, Meister has stayed actively involved in CRWP work including her trip to the NWP Annual Meeting in Orlando last fall and her continuing participation in continuity and professional development events such as “Be a Teacher and a Published Writer” and the Clare-Gladwin workshops.

All of us at CRWP congratulate Debbi on her dedication and hard work!

CRWP Attends NWP 2010-11 Annual Meeting in Orlando

November 17th, 2010 marked the kick-off of the National Writing Project’s 2010-11 Annual Meeting, staged this year in sunny Orlando, Florida.  Eleven members of the Chippewa River Writing Project’s leadership team traded chilly Michigan temperatures for the chance to exchange ideas with NWP colleagues from around the nation (and around the world) during the three-day event, which took place on the grounds of Disney’s Contemporary Resort.

CRWP Co-Directors Sue Steffel and Liz Brockman attend a special-topics session together.

Held in conjunction yearly with the National Council of Teachers of English’s Annual Convention, the event offers a tremendous opportunity for teacher participants to reinvigorate their love for teaching and writing, as they return to their classrooms with new ideas and innovations gleaned from intense seminars, discussion sessions, and fellowship opportunities with colleagues to use throughout the year. Moreover, these teacher leaders return to CRWP with ideas for site development opportunities related to the summer institute, professional development, continuity, and youth programs.

St. Louis High School teacher and CRWP team member Erin Busch-Grabmeyer captures the feelings of all participants as she notes:  “Orlando was a wonderful experience; not only to learn new ideas to incorporate into our own SI, but to re-energize myself as a writer and a teacher of writing! I enjoyed seeing other like-minded individuals collaborate and learn from each other to improve writing programs in schools across America. Overall, it was a very positive and motivating experience.”

Highlights of the Annual Meeting included a welcoming address delivered by NWP President Sharon Washington, as well as a general session led by renowned elementary school educator, NWP teacher, and author Donalyn Miller, whose recent work The Book Whisperer has helped many teachers find new ways to help their students foster a love of reading.

CRWP teacher team member Beth Nelson during Friday's general session.

For many participants, however, the most valuable experiences were gained from the sessions themselves, which offered a wide range of topics targeted at a variety of interest levels– from technology, to administration; youth programs to partnership building, the conference offered something for everyone.  “The level of commitment and professionalism was refreshing and amazing,” observes Greenville High School teacher and CRWP team member Beth Nelson.  “I especially enjoyed the accessibility of the presenters.”

Meridian Junior High School teacher and CRWP team member Amanda Smoker echoes Nelson’s enthusiasm when she recalls a particularly favorite session: “I’m not exaggerating when I say that I found all of the sessions I attended to be valuable. The session that I was probably most inspired by was the session on Content Area Reading and Writing. I’m glad I put myself on the waiting-list for this session! For years, I have been a huge supporter of reading and writing across the curriculum and this session gave me some great ideas to bring back about how to get other content area teachers as involved in and excited about it as I am.”

The range of sessions offered during the Annual Meeting even lent two CRWP members the chance to share the expertise they have gained in developing the Summer Institute program since CRWP’s inception in 2009.  CRWP Director Troy Hicks and K-12 Co-Director Kathy Kurtze were joined by Iowa Writing Project’s Ann Berger and University of Colorado Denver’s Rich VanDeWeghe in delivering “Reading in the Invitational Summer Institute,” an exploration of the role reading plays in the Summer Institute classroom in connection with writing and teacher demonstrations.

All in all, the experiences gained from Orlando will remain with each of the eleven participants as they look towards CRWP’s future and begin to plan for a new year.  “The conference was so invigorating for me!” notes Smoker. “I love attending conferences in general, but the Annual Meeting is different; it’s a hands-on extension of the Summer Institute. I spent the entire three days being reminded why I love being a part of the Chippewa River Writing Project.”