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Released July 7 2004


HATTIESBURG -- Feeling artistically stifled, Grace Christian Elementary teacher Christina Thornhill applied to the South Mississippi Writing Project's Summer Institute to tap into her "inner creative resources."

What the Writing Institute at The University of Southern Mississippi offered, she said, was "that and much more."

After three weeks of collaborating with a diverse group of K-12 teachers to enhance their ability to help students become successful learners, Thornhill left the summer program with a "renewed awareness that everyone has a story to tell."

"I took away new friendships, confidence and excitement about bringing new ideas to my students and peers, thanks to the Writing Institute," Thornhill said.

Thornhill and 11 other teachers from south Mississippi representing various disciplines spent the better part of last month (June 9-30) sharing and reflecting on the uses of writing in their own classrooms. Offering opportunities for classroom research as well as personal and professional rejuvenation, the institute was created for teachers who want to improve their own writing as well as their students'.

Patrick Gray, a teacher at Oak Grove Middle School, said he entered the institute to meet other teachers who wanted to become better teachers of writing and to share ideas with them. "What I took away from the experience was a better understanding of the writing process and how to address it with my students. I also understand the importance of building a community with my colleagues in order to make our students better readers and writers," Gray said.

By completing the course, participants can earn up to six hours of graduate credit at Southern Miss -- at no cost. For some, this is the first step to furthering their educations, said program coordinator Darcie Conrad.

"A lot of teachers get this credit, and that's what gets them started in graduate school. When you're in the classroom teaching all the time, it's hard to think about going back to school yourself, so in many ways, this programs helps them reconnect with Southern Miss," Conrad said.

Selection for the program begins in early spring. A committee of teachers selects applicants for interviews with Summer Institute directors, and from this pool, 16 teachers are selected. This summer, the participants also included Deborah Ainsworth, Prentiss Christian; Heather Carlisle, teacher candidate; Hollie Gore, North Forrest Elementary; Lisa Hogue, Grace Christian Elementary; Carressia Paige King, Bay Springs High; Sherry Kinkopf, Collins Middle School; Melissa Perez Sanzin, Bay Springs High; Maureen Philpot, Perry Central; Lori Pruitt, Mt. Olive High; and Tammy Walters, Oak Grove Lower Elementary.

In May, summer participants attended an orientation meeting in which they received books, handouts and overview materials. Then, during the summer program, the teachers presented successful demonstration lessons borrowed from their own classrooms that combined both writing theory and application.

One of the most appealing aspects of the institute, according to the project's co-director, Kim Walker, is the opportunity for teachers to explore and develop their own personal and professional writing. "Summer fellows work in small response groups to develop, revise and edit several papers," Walker said. "Each person then chooses several pieces to be published in an anthology, along with their demonstration lessons."

Walker said the institute, affiliated with the National Writing Project and the Mississippi Writing/Thinking Institute, is both "challenging and deeply rewarding." As summer fellows grow personally and professionally, she said, they quickly form a strong community through their writing, discussions and participation in each other's demonstration lessons.

"This community is the foundation of the South Mississippi Writing Project. Through a network of summer fellows both past and present, opportunities for professional growth continue even after the Summer Institute is over, as teachers grow as educators, leaders and spokespersons for educational reform," Walker said.


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July 20, 2004 4:09 PM