The program, currently based at Castro Elementary, will continue as usual into 2010 — but only because a Menlo Park couple has taken on its operations after it was cut last spring, along with many other classes and programs, from the Adult School.
Large cuts in state educational funding forced the Adult School to slash programs and trim offerings last spring. Among the losses was the Adult School's tutoring programming, which includes both adult GED tutoring and a branch called "Generation Connections," a free program that brought seniors and young students together to work on subjects like science, reading and writing.
The writing tutoring, then called Literacy in the Classroom, "was an arm of one of our volunteer programs here," explained Laura Stefanski, head of the Adult School. When all tutoring was canceled on June 5, she said, "that program ended as well."
That's when the Menlo Park couple, Tony and Robbie Fanning, stepped in.
"When the announcement came out, several of the other volunteers said they didn't want to see the program die, and neither did we," said Tony Fanning, who is now helping keep the program alive under the direction of his wife. "Robbie said she'd be willing to run the thing."
Now on its own, the program operates under a new name, Writing Buddies, which Fanning said is a more accurate description anyway.
"I found out a couple years ago that that's what the kids call it," he said.
As for how Writing Buddies works, "What we do is really simple," he said: An adult buddy writes and illustrates a short book on an accessible topic, and brings it in to read with the kid buddy, usually a first or second grade student, many of whom need practice with English. The program is especially important for children who do not speak English at home.
After reading it together, the kid buddy illustrates his or her own version of the story, while the adult buddy asks key questions about that week's topic.
"Drawing the picture is really important," Fanning said. "It's been shown in a lot of research that it frees up their ability to describe things."
When the kid buddy is finished, after 20 to 40 minutes, they share their work with a friend or teacher.
"It's a big part of it for the kid to feel like they've done something neat," Fanning said.
The one-hour Writing Buddies sessions occur once a week for six weeks. At the end, there is a party with all the buddies, called the "author" or "publication party." The student buddies get to keep the original stories, bound in a book.
"Some of the drawings are quite impressive," Fanning said. "There are three or four kids in each class that just do stuff you can't believe."
In an e-mail, Castro Principal Judy Crates explained that "Writing Buddies provides the individual help that our students desperately need. In our neighborhood program, usually all of our students speak another language at home and are learning English. The teacher is the sole English role model, and students need individual practice in speaking and especially writing."
Thanks to the program, Crates said, "The students not only increase their English skills, but also realize that they are competent students who can be successful."
For information on volunteering in the Writing Buddies program, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (650) 323-1183.