It’s the end of the semester and the halls are beginning to quiet on the University of Michigan's Dearborn campus, as students and educators alike enjoy a brief reprieve before gearing up for their summer courses. Here inside the Mardigian Library, Jerrice Donelson, founder of Scribe Tribe Writing Tutors, hosts the team’s first official kick-off meeting and presentation.
Board members, U of M faculty, and writing tutors gathered in the Ford Collaboratory for the presentation, which included dinner and a lively follow-up discussion. During the presentation, Jerrice discussed the paramount importance of academic writing in college, and used this as a springboard to address the need for this type of writing tutoring in Detroit high schools. "Being able to write at the college level is a necessary, yet overlooked, ability that is leaving our Detroit students behind once they enter into a college or university," Jerrice explains. "Because writing involves a great deal of first- and second-year academics in all subjects, students should be learning what's needed to write at this level while still in high school to ensure they readiness once in college."
Indeed, a staggering number of high school graduates who are accepted into various universities are yet unable to succeed in their first year of post-secondary education due to a lack of preparedness for the rigors of college-level academics, especially writing. According to federal statistics, "40% of [all] the admitted and enrolled students take at least one remedial course, reducing dramatically their probability of graduating" (Conley, 2008). The writing tutors in attendance seemed dismayed but not surprised by this reality, concurring that this is often representative of their experience in tutoring writing at the college level. Jerrice added that, "While a vast majority of Detroit-area students who come from college prep curricula high schools may in fact be accepted into many colleges and universities, an equal, disparaging amount will enter into remedial courses, as well as not be entered into or perform at their chosen program's expected standard once in college, due to lack of preparedness―particularly in writing." This goes to show that college eligibility is not necessarily synonymous with college readiness.
Jerrice, who is currently completing her Master's Degree in Teaching Secondary English and is scheduled to begin her Ph.D in Writing and Rhetoric in 2016, is looking to change this with the start of her non-profit tutoring group, Scribe Tribe Writing Tutors. Her educational background in teaching writing (with a minor in Teaching English as a Second Language), combined with her previous experience as a writing tutor, makes her well-versed in some of the challenges faced by both students and educators when it comes to transitioning from high school to college writing. Jerrice brings her passion, knowledge, and energy to the Tribe, whose mission is to serve Detroit high school students by tutoring college writing. For Jerrice, as for Scribe Tribe, it's not just about getting Detroit students to college, but getting them through college by equipping them with the tools necessary to succeed.
As a testament to the early success of this program, some of Jerrice's former students attended the kick-off meeting, and shared their experiences as former high school writers who have since entered into college. Jahara, now a sophomore in Biology at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, stated that the lack of writing-intensive courses in high school left her unprepared for writing at the college level once she entered into the University's dual-enrollment program. "I was not at all prepared for what was involved in writing for college classes, which left me performing below my usual grades in high school," Jahara explained. "Because we are required to maintain a certain grade point average to continue in the [dual-enrollment] program, I struggled tremendously, and once I became an actual college student, I knew I needed help." Khalil, another of Jerrice’s former students, also believes he would have benefited from more practice writing at the college level while still in high school. "I was always really good at writing, so I didn't see it as much of a challenge—at first,” Khalil shared during the meeting. "Once I had my first experience in writing in college, it brought me pause, as my grade was unusually low, but I was able to readjust my [writing] process to meet the course's expectations." Still, Khalil maintains, "If I had had more [college-level] writing in high school, I think that it would have prepared me for what was to come." These students' experiences speak to the need for college-level writing tutoring in high schools. Moreover, they coincide with observations made by educators such as David T. Conley from the University of Oregon, who asserts that "writing may be by far the single academic skill most closely associated with college success" (2008). If students are unable to write at a college level, they will almost certainly struggle to keep afloat in their other college courses.
Thus, Scribe Tribe's ultimate goal is to become fully integrated into the Detroit community through local high schools, community centers, and organizations, as well as colleges and universities that provide academic support to high school students preparing for college. To support this vision, representatives from local collegiate organizations—such as the University of Michigan-Detroit Center and the Minority Association of Pre-med Students (MAPS)—were also in attendance at the group's kick-off meeting. These interested partners, along with board members that represent faculty from University of Michigan-Dearborn's College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters (CASL) and College of Education, Health, and Human Services (CEHHS), as well as reps from the University's Ann Arbor campus, participated in the discussion about how best to support under-prepared Detroit-area students. All parties agreed with Jerrice's approach of going where the students are and discovering their needs—in short, "bringing the mountain to Mohammed." Through the free writing tutoring services offered by Scribe Tribe, Jerrice is hoping to do just that: meet students where they are, both physically and educationally, and equip them with the necessary skills to write successfully in college and beyond.
Conley, D.T. (2007). Redefining College Readiness. Eugene, OR: Educational Policy Improvement Center.