Stephen Kogon brought the "Reading, Writing, It's Exciting" program to Castle Heights after successfully working with our literacy coach in having students write original narratives and poetry to be read at Barnes and Noble Bookstores. These were special event afternoons that showcased the talents of our students, and the time and energy Stephen put in to make them successful. After losing our coach, Stephen organized a program for second graders "at risk of failing", focusing on written and oral language. These students worked for designated periods during the school day under Stephen's guidance to improve their language arts skills, especially in the area of writing. They were showcased at Barnes and Noble along with other students and their grades and test data indicated that much progress had been made over the course of the year. We feel that Stephen's program reached out to those students, created an atmosphere of comfort and security and made them feel valued through their success. As the principal of Castle Heights Elementary, I allowed Stephen to set up his program annually and did what was necessary to facilitate his work. I have no reservations about the program and would recommend it to any academic facility where there are students who need just a little bit more to be successful.
- Patricia Godon-Tann (Principal, Retired Castle Heights Elementary School) __________________________________________________________________________________________________________
I’ve been teaching for almost 10 years at Castle Heights Elementary school in Los Angeles. I absolutely love what I do. But teaching, as you know, definitely has its challenges. If you ask any elementary school teacher, “What’s the most difficult subject to teach?” I guarantee you that every single one of them will tell you in a heartbeat, “Writing.” Any additional support teachers can get helping their students become better writers is more than welcomed – it’s wished for.
I was fortunate enough to have a wish come true when Reading, Writing, It’s Exciting came to my school in 2009. This last year especially, this program had a very positive impact on three of my second graders: Robert, Andrew, and Jessica. They were kids who didn’t have a lot of opportunities outside of school and didn’t get the spotlight that often. And they struggled in writing. I knew getting them involved in a special writing project would help them in so many ways.
Reading Writing It’s Exciting allowed each of my three students to meet with their very own writing mentor once a week for nearly the entire school year. For an entire hour, these kids received one-to-one attention and guidance in creating original stories. Robert, Andrew, and Jessica became excited about writing and looked forward to their weekly sessions with their writing mentors. As a teacher, if you can get a kid excited about doing schoolwork, then you’ve won half the battle. While all three students became more enthusiastic about writing, I feel that Jessica had the most success in the program. Jessica was a very sweet and hard-working student, but extremely shy. She could go a whole day without saying a single word in class unless I specifically called upon her. She was also an English language learner – she spoke a language other than English at home. When you’re learning English as a second language, it’s easy to become intimidated and shrink into the background. But with mentoring and extra attention, Jessica blossomed. Not only did she write two long, creative stories while participating in the program, but her self-confidence grew and grew.
This super shy kid needed a chance to feel special. Working with a writing mentor weekly boosted her self-confidence. Developing her stories – letting what she had inside come out on paper – that’s the magic of the written word. A blank sheet of paper is transformed by imagination and hard work. And when Jessica saw one of her very own stories brought to life by professional actors at a Barnes and Noble event – that was incredibly empowering for her. That’s a big deal for anyone, let alone a child. Imagine you’re 7 years old, and a story that you created is brought to life in front of an audience of your family, teachers, and classmates. This experience made Jessica feel so special and that what she had to say, through writing, was important.
Reading, Writing, It’s Exciting definitely made a difference to these kids from my second grade class. Kids who struggled in school, didn’t have a lot of opportunities, or were still learning English. Through the help and guidance of writing mentors, my students became excited about writing, developed confidence and self-esteem, and came to understand the freedom and power of writing.
--Charmaine Colina (2nd grade teacher, Castle Heights Elementary School)
It is extremely challenging for young students to understand writing as a process. It is not easy for them to grasp the importance of pre-writing and drafting. Kids will dive right in and then realize they've become "stuck" and "can't think of anything to write." It is also very challenging for them to revise what they have written. For most kids, once it's written, they consider it done. This is why a writing mentoring program is extremely beneficial for students. The kids get excited about creating original stories while going through all the steps in the writing process. Ultimately, the more practice they can get with writing as a process, the better writers they become.
--Bill Rains (2nd grade teacher, Castle Heights Elementary School) ______________________________________________________________________________
As a parent, and also a Volunteer at Castle Heights Elementary School, I have had the privilege and honor of being part of The Reading, Writing, It’s Exciting Program which Stephen Kogon has put together for the children at CHES.
During the two years that I have been a volunteer, I have been so impressed with the progress and enthusiasm which the kids involved in the Program have shown. This Program helps develop, not only their writing skills, it also helps spark their imagination and gives them such confidence in themselves and their writing abilities.
I have seen kids who come into the Program shy, quiet, and unsure of themselves turn into bold, enthusiastic kids so full of confidence.
I am always amazed at the transformation.
I believe this program can benefit any child, even those who write well. It helps bring them out of their shell, and opens up a world full of wonderful and fascinating images which lies buried in their imagination.
All kids have wonderful imagination. It takes a spark to help bring it out.
I had no idea what my son was up to in the Reading, Writing, it's Exciting Program. I just assumed he was getting a boost to help his writing skills. We were invited to a special event at Barnes and Noble where his story was to be read aloud and acted out by actors. What i heard was truly a great surprise! His writing was funny and imaginative and overall awesome -- I had never heard him express himself like this EVER!!!!! We were so proud of him and more importantly -- he felt great about himself. This program helped him take his writing above and beyond what he was doing on a day to day basis. His story was two pages long and so creative. This is a program that should definitely be continued! Very impressed!
As a volunteer, I can't recommend enough the Reading, Writing, It's Exciting Program! Working with these kids was so fulfilling and the program thoughtfully organized and executed. Stephen Kogon does a great job and I think the kids really enjoy the experience.
-- Barry Grey
My role as a RWE mentor has been as enriching an experience for me, as it is for the children. Creating their original stories improves their reading, writing, and communication skills -- and boosts their self-confidence. They are precious, polite and often hilarious. RWE is a celebration of imagination.
Thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to participate in the Writing Project at Castle Heights Elementary School this past school year. As one of the program mentors, I provided one-on-one academic support to students exhibiting difficulty in grade-level reading and writing -- what a rewarding experience for both the students and me! I am impressed how for an hour each week you structured well-organized activities that stimulated the minds of a group of highly energetic second-graders, encouraging them to write short stories, complete with a plot, action and vivid details. I witnessed firsthand how each week the students successively became more interested in the reading and writing challenges set before them. For months you inspired the mentors and children alike to persevere through the rough patches when for whatever reason the students’ focus was less than sharp. The students indeed experienced accomplishment and a strong sense of pride in becoming authors. I sincerely admire your passion for intervention in working with potentially high-risk youth, and believing as I do that all children can learn and excel. Needless to say, I wholeheartedly support the values and objectives of the Writing Project and very much look forward to participating again in the coming 2011-12 academic year.