Writing Program Letter Exchange

Keynote Speakers Humberto Rico, Jackyn Vo, Victor Chavez

For over a decade, the Writing Program Outreach Committee has teamed with RJ Frank Academy in Oxnard to conduct a letter exchange between middle school and college students. While the project traditionally culminates in an on-campus celebration, this year the students gathered online for a Zoom event that brought together approximately 100 students. Through the distanced gathering, the middle school and college students were able to meet “face to face” and discuss writing, college life, and the future.  A mix of keynote speakers, student readers, and breakout room discussions provided a new opportunity to connect.
The letter exchange project pairs Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) students from RJ Frank with current UCSB students.  Throughout the Fall quarter, the AVID students exchange letters with students in Academic Communities for Excellence (ACE) writing classes as part of a program designed improve writing skills, enlarge perceptions about what counts as writing, and encourage academic achievement. This year, the letter exchange began with an online visit at RJ Frank by UCSB writing faculty Jennifer Johnson and Nicole Warwick, who guided the middle school students through the writing process, welcoming them to the project.
The online event, held on Friday, December 4, was both a celebration of writing and an opportunity for students and faculty to meet and to learn from one another.  A number of speakers were featured, including Writing Program Director Madeleine Sorapure, who welcomed the group and provided a virtual tour of campus.  UCSB students Victor Chavez, Humberto Rico, and Jacklyn Vo served as keynote speakers, each sharing their journeys to college life.
Following these speeches, pen pals were able to meet in smaller breakout groups, providing a chance to actually meet their partners for the first time.  The grand finale was a series of readings from a selection of letter-writing pairs, who generously shared their work with the audience. The letters made clear the connections that had been established between the two groups, particularly in a year of distanced learning.  As RJ Frank teacher Kristin Dodge explains, “After a decade of bringing our middle school students to UCSB to meet their buddies, I was justifiably anxious about how Covid would dampen yet another life event. I could not have been more wrong--the letters between the students were much more meaningful. The connections made between our young students and the UCSB young adults were even more important and powerful.”
The letter exchange project was coordinated by Writing Program faculty Robert Krut with the assistance of RJ Frank AVID instructors Kristin Dodge and German Figueroa.  UCSB writing faculty Chris Dean, Kathy Patterson, and Nicole Warwick provided the UCSB letter writers. In recent years, the long running project has been featured in panel presentations at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the National Council of Teachers of English, Western States Rhetoric and Composition, and other national and regional events.
Image Caption: Keynote Speakers Humberto Rico, Jackyn Vo, Victor Chavez