National Writing Project

New Places, New Faces with NWP

By: Amy Bauman
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 7, No. 5
Date: November-December 2002

Summary: In the first of a two-part series, leaders from five of NWP's ten new writing project sites are profiled, highlighting their backgrounds and what led them to the role of site director.


Part I

About this time last year, The Voice introduced readers to the directors of the newest National Writing Project sites (see "Moving in New Directions"). The positive response we received after the article ran—from people who appreciated "getting to know" these new faces—encouraged us to make it an annual feature.

Our hope is that in introducing new directors to the network—and the network to new directors—we'll help everyone make those famed writing project connections a little faster. You know, the kind of connections that bond people to the writing project, the kind that ignite a call to action within a person; the kind that lead people to become . . . well, writing project directors.

With that in mind, we offer the following introductions to directors of five of the ten newest NWP sites: the Appalachian Writing Project (Virginia), the Central West Virginia Writing Project, the Eastern Iowa Writing Project, the Flint Hills Writing Project (Kansas), and the Plymouth State Writing Project (New Hampshire). This is the first of a two-part series; see "More New Places, New Faces in New Year" in the January-February 2003 issue.

Amy D. Clark, Director
Appalachian Writing Project
University of Virginia College at Wise, Virginia

Amy Clark came to her professional role as director of the Appalachian Writing Project out of a love for writing. Since college, she had planned to teach on the college level, and, as she put it, there she plans to stay. She began teaching high school English and special education courses before accepting a role at the University of Virginia's College at Wise (UVA-Wise), where she has taught English and oral communication for five years.

Clark became founding director of the Appalachian Writing Project in 2000, encouraged to build the site by Pat Kelly, then director of the Southwest Virginia Writing Project. As Kelly pointed out, the extreme southwestern area of Virginia was not being served. The resulting site was first funded by the state of Virginia and UVA-Wise before becoming a site of the National Writing Project.

It was a logical move for Clark to step into the site director role. With her background in secondary education, her department at UVA-Wise thought she would be the best person to network with area teachers. As well, because she writes a great deal, the idea of working with the writing project appealed to her as a way to interact with other writers. Through the process of choosing co-directors, and then assembling and working with a first cohort of teachers, Clark began to assume ownership of the role.

Looking ahead, Clark focuses on the site's finances, especially since Virginia is in a budget crisis that is forcing colleges and schools to tighten their wallets. But beyond money issues, Clark has great hopes for the site. "I want our site to be an inspiration to anyone who wants to write—teachers, students, and community members included—and needs the support to do it. As a director, I hope to continue leading the site into more innovative projects that will reach far beyond our service region."

Talking of the new-site experience to date, Clark recalled that the teachers became so close during that first summer institute that they named themselves "Kindred Spirits." As the name suggests, the writing project did more than its intended purpose, leading many participants through "personal journeys to self-awareness." Sadly, the group lost founding member Sharon Harding in June 2002.

"It is not lost on us that without the writing project, we would never have had the opportunity to know [Sharon]," Clark said. "And without her experience in the writing project, her family would not have the book of pieces that she produced, much of which was inspired by them. Those founding members will always have a special place in my heart."

Fran Simone and Paul Epstein,
Director and Co-Director
Central West Virginia Writing Project
Marshall University Graduate College, West Virginia

The Central West Virginia Writing Project (CWVWP), although new, has experienced writing project people supporting it. Director Fran Simone had been a director with the former West Virginia Writing Project (WVWP) for over 20 years and continues to direct the statewide network of West Virginia sites. "I'm a reconstituted director who has been involved with the National Writing Project for a very long time," quipped Simone, looking to co-director Paul Epstein to speak for the new site.

Epstein, too, has much experience to offer. He came to teaching in 1987 from a "limited career in folk music and rural studies, supplemented by social work." Participating in a 1990 summer institute at the West Virginia Writing Project because he needed the six credit hours to renew his teaching certificate, Epstein discovered that, as it often happens, once you get into the writing project, you're in.

"The following year, I was asked . . . to revise my presentation for a series of workshops around the state sponsored by a state staff development organization," Epstein remembered. "A couple years later, I began co-directing summer institutes."

Although his route to his co-director role may not have been planned, Epstein has clear ideas about the site's direction. "When the West Virginia Writing Project lost its NWP affiliation in 2000, it was a blow to all who had supported and received support from the project," he noted. "It did not take much soul searching for me to realize that in order to reformulate our writing project, there would have to be a core group of very committed individuals. . . . I decided that I would give whatever I could to rebuild [it]."

A small team of people—Epstein, Simone, Tammi King (who co-directed summer institutes with Epstein), Jo Blackwood (co-director of both the former WVWP and now the CWVWP), and Joye Alberts (National Writing Project)—began discussing how to refocus the site's work on a smaller geographical area than it had served before.

Epstein finds the work exciting. "I hope that I can be a part of the growth of a community that becomes a self-sustaining agent of support for teachers interested in using, learning about, and sharing best practices."

To this, he added this advice: "I would encourage everyone involved in a writing project to take time to reflect on how important your writing project is to you. What are you willing to do to keep it and make it strong? It is easy to find reasons that prevent you from giving more of your time and energy to it; it is easy to feel afraid or inadequate to tasks and challenges about which you know little; but unless enough people roll up their sleeves and take on the work, give the time, overcome the fears, and face the challenges, your writing project might not be there for you."

Richard Hanzelka, Director
Eastern Iowa Writing Project
St. Ambrose University, Iowa

Among the interesting stories of how one comes to a particular profession is Richard Hanzelka's. "What brought me into teaching," Hanzelka explains, "was my certainty that I should be a teacher. It was not a choice among professions, but rather a plan from childhood that I wanted to teach."

After years in the profession, Hanzelka's background covers a range of experiences. The list includes: teacher (at both elementary and secondary levels), language arts consultant, staff development coordinator, adjunct professor, director of general education for an intermediate agency, director of organizational planning, strategic planning coordinator, and head of a university education department.

To this list, Hanzelka now adds writing project site director. In truth, he has been involved with the writing project through the Iowa Writing Project (IWP) since 1978—long before the project had an official relationship with the National Writing Project. He came for the opportunity to be in a professional relationship with a former professor as well as for the excitement of collaborative efforts in which IWP was involved. He stayed for reasons that writing project people will understand.

"My role as a director has deep roots in IWP," Hanzelka offered in explanation. "I began as a member of the IWP Steering Committee and Advisory Committee, and in the past few years, I have been a co-director of IWP. As the NWP/IWP relationship has grown and expanded, it became apparent that additional NWP sites in Iowa would be healthy for both projects."

It also became apparent that Hanzelka should be the one to begin an NWP-specific site in Iowa, and the Eastern Iowa Writing Project at St. Ambrose University is the result. As he is quick to point out, IWP still remains as the center of the state network and offers Iowa the unique opportunity to have a strong state network as a base.

When asked for a favorite writing project story, Hanzelka talked of how the Eastern Iowa Writing Project came into being. At the time of the application for an eastern Iowa site, he was chair of the education department at Marycrest University in Davenport, Iowa. Due to some governance problems (academic programs at the school were very strong and highly praised at local and state levels), Marycrest announced its closing effective June 30, 2002. Ironically, the same day, Hanzelka received word that NWP had accepted the new-site proposal.

"At that point, I had two choices: drop it or find another site," Hanzelka recalled. "I chose the second option and went to St. Ambrose University, also in Davenport. After a conversation with them and with Richard Sterling, we decided to move ahead.

"My hope for the Eastern Iowa Writing Project is that it can continue to grow from its modest beginnings and become the centerpiece of professional development in the area," he concluded. "I'm looking forward to being part of the growth of this project that is already getting a good reputation."

Lori A. Norton-Meier and Todd Goodson, Directors
Flint Hills Writing Project
Kansas State University, Kansas

Together, Lori Norton-Meier and Todd Goodson bring a lifetime's worth of experience to their director partnership at the Flint Hills Writing Project in Kansas. She taught kindergarten for 7 years in an innercity setting before moving on to university work where she's been for 8 years; he's taught for 20 years, the first 9 of which were in middle and high school settings before he, too, moved onto higher education.

Along the way, both Norton-Meier and Goodson found themselves involved in the writing project by the intriguing, sometimes circuitous routes of which we so often hear.

"I first experienced the writing project as a teacher in Iowa," Norton-Meier recalled. "When I went to work at Wichita State, a few teachers asked how they could improve their students' writing. I went to the Internet to find the closest writing project and discovered that there was no project in Kansas." Upon discovering that Kansas was "writing project dry," Norton-Meier started the Kansas Writing Project at Wichita State University.

Goodson's ties to the writing project run multiple-sites deep as well. He first became involved in the project through his middle school's work with the Greater Kansas City Writing Project (Missouri) in the eighties. A decade later, he became director of the Coastal Plains Writing Project (North Carolina).

Eventually, both educators found themselves at Kansas State University, where they decided a collaboration was in order. Starting a new site there seemed a natural move, as they'd each already served as director of a site. With the tough part behind them, Norton-Meier and Goodson teamed up to create the Flint Hills Writing Project.

Norton-Meier and Goodson have stories to tell of the shared experiences that mark writing project gatherings, the amazing writing connections teachers make, and the power of the writing project overall.

"During my first summer institute in North Carolina," Goodson recounted, "one of the teachers in the group spent the entire summer writing about how she and her husband had been trying for years to start a family with no luck. Later that fall at our first meeting, she announced that she had become pregnant during the institute, and she credited the success to all of her writing. The next summer, I told the story to the participants at the beginning of the institute and joked that they should be careful, as the project increases fertility. Shortly after the conclusion of the institute, I learned my wife was pregnant. I no longer joke about the power of the project."

On a more serious note, he offers his hopes for their site. "I hope to create a network of dedicated teachers to support their efforts at improving their schools."

To this, Lori Norton-Meier adds, "I can't wait to see [our site] become the teacher's project. With each new group of fellows, a writing project changes, develops, and grows."

Meg J. Petersen, Director
Plymouth State Writing Project
Plymouth State College, New Hampshire

"I wince when people ask me how long I have been teaching," began Meg Petersen, director of the Plymouth State Writing Project, when asked about her teaching career. "Through circumstances too numerous to explain, I began teaching at 17. I have been teaching for about 25 years, but I am not really as old as that makes that sound."

But the range of experience Petersen lists suggests she is indeed versed in her craft. She began her teaching working with emotionally handicapped students at the state hospital in New Hampshire. Over the course of her career, however, she has worked with preschool through graduate students, including stints as a middle school teachers in Bermuda and an English as a second language teacher in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. For the past 11 years, however, she has been teaching in the English department at Plymouth State College in New Hampshire, where she teaches methods courses in secondary English, the composition program, and a variety of writing and literature courses.

"As to what brought me to my profession, I have always been a writer and a teacher," Petersen states. "Those are two of the most important things in my life."

The story of how she came to the writing project, however, is especially interesting—and well-known now within the NWP network. "I came to the writing project on the wildest of chances, " she explains. "I passed by the National Writing Project booth at the 2000 NCTE convention in Milwaukee. I was looking through the materials and noticed that New Hampshire was the only state without a writing project site. This led to a long conversation with James Gray, who happened to be in the booth. This conversation convinced me that the writing project was where I belonged. Very few times in my life have I had such a sense of coming home to where I have always belonged."

When asked about her hopes for the site Peterson answered, "Our institute so far surpassed my wildest expectations for it, that I am wary about making any predictions. My dreams paled before the reality (really)."

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