Mountain View Voice

News - December 25, 2009

Writing better with a buddy

Kids get literacy boost pairing with tutors in 'Writing Buddies' program

by Kelsey Mesher

For more than a decade, young students in Mountain View have been working on their literacy skills with local seniors in a program known today as "Writing Buddies."

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 or call (650) 323-1183.

E-mail Kelsey Mesher at ?? ?? ?? ??


Posted by Tony Fanning, a resident of another community
on Dec 24, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Thanks, Kelsey Mesher, for writing this article! The timing for publication couldn't be better. We at Writing Buddies are currently recruiting volunteers for a writing session which will begin in mid-January. The young Buddies this time will be a class of bright and lovable first-graders.

We train all volunteers, so you'll always know what to do, and there's never any need for anxiety. All you need is affection for kids and a desire to help them!

650-323-1183 or

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields