Writing the Road to Freedom Impact Report

Brendan Landry

October 2017

Thank you to Manual High School and all the community partners who made this possible. 

Executive Summary

Writing the Road to Freedom is a student-led initiative at Manual High School focused on using writing as a tool to empower students to reclaim the power of voice and  become agents of social change.

The 12 student leaders undertook a project to launch a student-run writing center at the school that would offer a peer-to-peer coaching model and in-class support with the goal of using writing as a way to address social inequities while increasing writing proficiency and college readiness.

After surveying Manual students to fully understand the environment, researching existing writing center models, and attending conferences to learn about and adopt best practices, the team launched the Writing Center at Manaul during the 2016-2017 school year.  Over the course of the first year, the

Center connected 58% of the Manual student body to significant peer support (3 sessions or more). The Center saw an average growth of 12% on PARCC/PSAT scores (writing sections) among these participants; and in May 2017, 100% of peer coaches were on track to graduate on time and had been admitted to institutes of higher learning.  

A 2017 Mayor’s Diversity and Inclusion Award winner, Writing the Road to Freedom intends for the Writing Center at Manual to be an integral part of the Manual High School community. After solidifying a vision for Year 2 and beyond, the team kicked off the 2017-18 school year with a new group of peer writing coaches and a renamed center. In an August 17th dedication ceremony, Manual High School renamed the writing center the Mardale Jay Writing Center to honor the memory of Mardale Howard Jay, 2017 Manual graduate, founding member of the Writing the Road to Freedom team, and inspiring leader both at Manual and in the larger community.


Background On the Community Innovator

Writing the Road to Freedom (WTRTF) is the brainchild of twelve seniors from Manual High School who shared a vision for a student-driven initiative that uses writing as a tool to empower all Manual students to become agents of social change and develop skill sets that prepare them for success in college. In 2016, Manual High School’s junior class registered an average score of 15 on the ACT in English.  This was the lowest scoring ACT category and represented an average that was 3 points behind the benchmark score for acceptance to the University of Colorado-Boulder. In addition to that, the student leaders had gathered informal data around Manual students’ lack of confidence in their writing skills, their reluctance to access outside tutoring programs or ask teachers for help due to feelings of intimidation, and a tendency to turn to peers for help instead. With the support of their English Language Arts teacher, Olivia Jones, the group participated in the Design Challenge in September 2016 and were awarded $10,000 to support the project aimed at addressing this problem within the Manual High School student body.  

Writing the Road to Freedom builds upon research that demonstrates the effectiveness writing centers have on developing students’ writing proficiency through intensive, personalized support.  The Writing Center at Manual High School is student-led and staff-supported and allows student writers to work collaboratively to experience the power of effective language and become authors of their own learning through analysis, inquiry, and dialogue.   

Launched at the beginning of the team’s senior year, the Writing Center focused on the following directives:
1. One-on-one Peer Writing Coaching (before/after school, at lunch)
2. Co-Teaching as ‘push-in’ classroom peer support
3. Hosting events and workshops that inspire and empower students to use writing outside the classroom
4. Publication and events focused on showcasing Manual students’ writing projects to the greater community

Community Innovators:

Student Leaders:

LaShae Wedgeworth

Savanna Jones

Dulce Gonzalez

Nancy Chavez

Tre Carolina 

Mardale Jay 

Dajia Maestas

Isabelle Rayburn

Carlos Hernandez-Tovar

Jose Herrera

Guadalupe Lujan-Ruiz

Munira Cox-Woolfolk

Community Innovator-Teacher:
Olivia Jones

Imaginarium Innovation Partner:
George Awuor


Project Journey

Opportunity Statement

How might we create an empowering learning environment that will allow students to authentically engage in the writing process to develop the skills they need to be agents of social change?

Establish Presence of Writing Center
Understanding that they could learn from existing models, the team initiated site visits to writing centers at CU Boulder, CU Denver, and Community College of Denver.  Additionally, they surveyed the Manual student body to gain a better understanding of what would be required of the physical space to fully meet the needs of the students. The team used these insights to design and build out the space for the Writing Center.  

Establish Cohort of Peer Writing Coaches  
In order to establish a team of professionally-trained Peer Writing Coaches, the team again tapped into existing resources, learning best practices from visiting existing writing centers as well as well as sending members to the International Writing Center Association National Conference and the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing. The team applied these best practices to develop a Peer Writing Coach training, curriculum, and evaluation process.

Initiate and Sustain Writing Center Programming  
The team rolled out programming focused on the four directives of 1-on-1 Peer Coaching, Co-Teaching, Events and Workshops, and Publication and delivered programs during and after school and directly in the classroom to ensure they were reaching students who may not voluntarily access the Writing Center.


“The peer writing coach I worked with was…
    -Quotes from Student Feedback Survey

In its first year, the Writing Center at Manual High School connected 58% of Manual students (160 of 279) to three or more sessions of peer support. Those 161 students showed an average growth of 12% on scores for the PARCC/PSAT writing section.  Additionally, the 23 students designated as English Language Learners (ELL) showed an average growth of 55% in the same area.

When surveyed at the start of their senior year (August 2016), only 8 of the 15 (55%) of Peer Writing Coaches agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “I will go on to some form of higher education next year.”  At that same time, only 55% of the Peer Writing Coaches were on track to graduate on time.

In May of 2017, 100% of Peer Writing Coaches graduated on time and 100% had been been accepted to college.  Thirteen of the 15 coaches will be the first in their family to attend college.  

In April 2017, the Writing the Road to Freedom team was invited to present their program at the Colorado and Wyoming Writing Tutors Conference at University of Northern Colorado (George?); and in August 2017 the team was recognized by the Mayor’s Office as a 2017 winner of a Diversity and Inclusion Award.  


Lessons Learned

  • The importance of community and building strong relationships - this gave the WTRTF team a strong foundation and helped each student feel supported and confident enough to take risks.
  • Prioritize data collection (pre and post).
  • Reflection is critical.
  • Peer coaching model has a significant impact on student engagement and learning.
  • Food is a very effective incentive for high school students.
  • Experiential learning is life-changing.
  • Horizontal structure- “Everyone as a Learner Model” (no teacher/student hierarchy) can transform classrooms and had a very positive impact on student achievement
  • Students will thrive when educators have high expectations and provide high support and high accountability.