Mamie Webb Hixon has been UWF’s Writing Lab Director since 1982. In this academic, grammar-friendly environment of the UWF Writing Lab, Hixon created and initiated a call-in service, the Grammar Hotline, for students, faculty and staff, and people in the community to call the Lab and get answers to questions about the written and spoken word. That service is now available both via telephone and online. Being a creative and innovative thinker, Hixon is always receptive to new ideas like the Grammar Hotline. So it’s no surprise that when Virkeisha Palmer, English/Language Arts High School Teacher on Special Assignment (TSA) for the Escambia County School District, said to Hixon in June when she asked Hixon to facilitate a workshop for language arts teachers in the Escambia County School District, “I wish our county high schools had a Writing Lab like the one you run at UWF,” Hixon, who is a self-proclaimed “connector,” responded, “Why not! If the school district has the resources, then I can provide the university student staff and the expertise for a satellite Writing Lab at one of the local high schools.” Latasha McGruder, Instructional Coach at Washington High, who is part of the Writing Partnership planning team had already expressed her interest in such a project. McGruder said she too had always envisioned an environment in which seasoned college student writers could help developing writers at the high school level. Now, after two months of planning, organizing, and preparing for the Monday, November 16, 9:00 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Washington High School Innovation Center (formerly the Media Center), Hixon’s creative idea will become a reality. “We’ll brand it,” Hixon quips: “University student writers helping high school student writers to write better.”
That’s exactly what the staff of three UWF Writing Lab assistants (labbies) will do: one doctoral student, one master’s student, and one undergraduate student available during and after school hours on designated days to read Washington High students’ papers for content and grammar. “After a pre-reading, in which the labbie reads and identifies each student’s strengths and weaknesses, the labbie will follow up with a face-to-face interactive paper-reading session with the student. This format is similar to the format we use in the Writing Lab with our university clientele,” Phelps explained. The labbies will also help students with brainstorming ideas.
“The UWF Writing Lab at Washington High is a perfect example of the kind of local partnership that can really benefit our community. I’m so proud of the students, faculty, and staff who have worked so hard to make this possible. It’s wonderful to see a cutting-edge program like this one become a reality,” said UWF Department of English Chair.
In addition to its main Lab housed in the College of Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities, the Writing Lab is already running satellite Writing Labs on its main campus at the College of Education and Professional Studies (since 2010) and the College of Business (since 2013). “We’re accustomed to managing satellite Labs, but this one at Washington will be the first one at an off-campus site,” said Karen Manning, English graduate student labbie.
“I’m especially excited about this partnership because I am a 1963 alumna of Booker T. Washington High School myself; the Innovation Center Specialist, Alisha Wilson, is a UWF graduate and former labbie; and the principal, Dr. Michael Roberts, is a UWF alumnus. What a partnership!” Hixon exclaimed. Wilson said that as a former labbie familiar with the UWF Writing Lab’s paper-reading and tutoring services, she too has had a vision of offering a writing lab service to Washington High students for quite some time, especially after she became the Innovation Specialist at Washington, where she also started the Spark Lab, a place, “a creative space” as she calls it, for students to pursue individual projects such as robotics and jewelry making for their classes.
Once the announcement about the Writing Lab was made, Washington High students began calling the Innovation Center to make appointments, said Wilson. The Writing Lab at Washington High won’t open until the week of November 9, but because of the demand for labbie readers, the Writing Lab at Washington High is allowing students to place papers in the online dropboxes from which the labbies can retrieve students’ papers and provide feedback. “I’m very excited about working with the university to help motivate our students and to give them the opportunity to work with university students,” said Dr. Roberts. “I’m even more excited about the number of students who are already showing interest,” he continued.
Connecting with the community is something the UWF Writing Lab is accustomed to doing. Just call the Writing Lab, and you’ll hear the voice of Jared Willets, WEAR TV-3’s Co-Anchor, delivering the outgoing voicemail greeting. In addition to providing the Grammar Hotline service, which reaches local, surrounding, and out-of-state and international communities, The Lab has sponsored essay contests for high school students during National Grammar Day (March 4) of each year. The Lab also assesses/scores essays for local organizations that sponsor essay contests. The Writing Lab is now in its fourth year of providing books to Escambia County School District schools. “We call it our ‘Books for Little Readers’ project,” explains Morgan Stith, UWF English instructor in the Department of International Studies and former labbie who initiated the project. In addition, Writing Lab paper readers serve as editors for a local magazine Out Front Magazine, and the Lab’s paper readers have provided editing services for Pensacola Magazine/Ballinger Publishing in the past. Finally, Hixon produces and narrates a local radio grammar show called It’s GrammarTime on a local AM/FM station, a spin-off from her former All the Write Stuff radio grammar series, which ran on WUWF radio for several years.
Meanwhile, at the same time of the WL@BTWHS preparations, Hixon’s team of grammarians will be “opening” a WL@FSH (Writing Lab at Football Study Hall). “I endearingly refer to it as the ‘Grammar for Jocks’ Lab,” Hixon quips. Each Tuesday and Sunday during Football Study Hall, a trained Writing Lab assistant will be available to give point-of-need assistance to UWF football players who have questions about grammar and writing. Beginning in Spring Term 2016, this service will be extended to all athletes, and the focus will be on paper reading. “We want to remove the ‘dumb jock’ stereotype from athletes because the athletes who come to the Writing Lab are interested in athletics and academics,” says Shea Kelly, who will be the Writing Lab tutor assigned to Football Study Hall during the rest of fall semester. In fact, graduate student Kent Langham is not only a former basketball player for UWF but also a current labbie. “I like the image of an athlete with a ball in one hand and a book in the other,” says Langham.
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