"It's like a miracle."
Those are the words of a middle-school teacher talking about a local non-profit that continues to produce what comes close to being miraculous.
The 10-year-old has developed a quick and fun way to transform untrained volunteers into effective writing coaches for our struggling schools. The coaches meet one-on-one with students.
The program just expanded to El Cerrito High School this past fall, thanks to the efforts of caring adults and parents like . But like most grassroots non-profits, it struggles financially, and its successes are in continual danger of being eroded by a shortage of funds.
The WriterCoach Connection is holding its biggest fundraiser of the year today, May 21. It's the "Read-and-Write-a-thon," at the Willard Middle School library in Berkeley. Students and coaches will take turns reading aloud from the favorite works — poetry, prose, drama, and fiction — starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 6 p.m.
Those who wish to donate can find instructions on the group's website.
This year, 430 community volunteers have been working with more than 1,500 students at El Cerrito High and eight other schools in Albany, Berkeley and Oakland, according to the organization's executive director, Bob Menzimer.
"We’re fighting to stay at our nine school sites for next fall," Menzimer said. "State education funding (or the lack of it) has eviscerated school budgets, and many sites, including both of our Oakland schools, can no longer support programs like WCC.
"Still, we’ve kept growing over the years, slowly but surely. We hope to not only stay in Oakland next year, but expand to a third Oakland school."
But the WriterCoach Connection's plans depend on donors, he said, noting that individual donations have grown to almost 20 percent of the organization's operating budget.
"This program works," Menzimer said. "At Media Academy in Oakland, smack in the middle of the vibrant, highly diverse, and challenging Fruitvale District, writing proficiency among students we coached rose from 13.5 percent in fall to 45.9 percent in spring. The California High School Exit Exam pass rate among these sophomores was 74% on the first try, unprecedented at the school and reminding the astonished principal of a suburban-school figure."
Menzimer said gifts large or small count. A donation of $10 means pencils for a year’s worth of coaching for a student, and a gift of $180 can provide coaching for a student for a whole year, he said.
"Any amount," he said, "will help generate comments like these, from our middle school students this year: 'I used to not like writing, but now I like it because he helps me and I don't get low grades anymore.' "