Ball State University on Feb. 3 hosted more than 85 middle and high school students from Delaware County for the second annual Peer Tutoring Day. The event is held each year to celebrate, train, and encourage local students who have volunteered to be peer writing tutors in their schools.

“The goal of Peer Tutoring Day is to bring together all of these writing centers and tutors into one place–as a sort of conference,” said Dr. Susanna Benko, professor of English at Ball State and professional development liaison to Muncie Community Schools. “There is no city in the United States of our size that has this many writing centers in their schools, and this is the students’ chance to meet one another. Peer tutors can work together, become inspired by the efforts at other schools, and learn from tutors who work at Ball State’s Writing Center. This event is about celebrating the work they are doing and growing their expertise and confidence.”

Over the last few years, several local schools—including Burris Laboratory School, Yorktown High School, Northside Middle School, Southside Middle School, and the Inspire Academy—have created their own writing centers. These programs offer places for students to bring their written work from any class and receive feedback from their peers. The timing and function of the centers vary from school to school, with some offering the center as a class and others as an after-school program.

Dr. Jackie Grutsch McKinney, director of Immersive Learning at Ball State and former director of the Writing Center at Ball State within the College of Sciences and Humanities, has supported the teachers in the creation of writing centers in intermediate and secondary schools, as well as the training of the teachers and students. Dr. Grutsch McKinney is a leading expert on writing centers, having published three award-winning books and numerous articles and chapters in writing studies, mostly in writing center studies, and was previously the president of the International Writing Centers Association.

The writing centers in the schools, as well as Peer Tutoring Day, are part of a $2.9 million Student Learning Recovery Grant from the Indiana Department of Education awarded to Ball State’s Teachers College. The grant funds multiple learning recovery projects to counter learning loss incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the grant funding does not apply to Yorktown schools, its writing center has worked with Dr. Grutsch McKinney and was invited to participate in this year’s Peer Tutoring Day.

“Building a writing center in a school requires a lot of work from the teachers and a lot of time to integrate into the life of a school,” Dr. Grutsch McKinney said. “Our hope with this grant was to get the writing centers launched, connect teacher leaders to a network of others doing this work, and help them configure a writing center that works for their particular school environments. What these teachers are doing is changing the whole of Muncie. It’s incredible.”

Dr. Grutsch McKinney directed a portion of the grant funding to provide stipends for the secondary education teachers to lead their respective writing centers, as well as for equipment and supplies for the writing center spaces in the schools. But the most impactful use of funds is the creation of the paid position of Community Writing Aides—Ball State Writing Center tutors who partner with the schools, support the teachers, and train and mentor the student tutors.

Dr. Nicole Cardassilaris, an eighth grader teacher leading the writing center at Northside Middle School, said: “There’s no possible way I could have done this without the Community Writing Aides.”

This multi-faceted initiative is affecting change in the lives of numerous students, and most of the resources are dedicated to the students who have volunteered to become peer tutors. By receiving the training and access to the resources developed by Dr. Grutsch McKinney, the peer tutors become better writers, students, and leaders in their schools. The students who receive tutoring are improving their writing and becoming empowered by individual feedback. The work of the writing centers is creating a ripple effect throughout the schools as more and more students become better writers, thinkers, and communicators.

This tutoring experience stimulates the students’ professional growth, opening them up to new career opportunities and skillsets valued by employers. Both the intermediate and secondary students, as well as the Ball State students serving as Community Writing Aides, are gaining essential professional experience. The program also benefits schools at several different levels: students receive one-on-one tutoring from trusted peers; tutors gain confidence, professional skills, and effective writing skills; and through these improvements the schools improve test scores and adherence to state standards.

As these programs continue to develop and thrive, Dr. Grutsch McKinney and Dr. Benko look to expand the program and create writing centers in more Muncie Community Schools, particularly at Muncie Central High School.