Like a Good Neighbor

A group of aspiring secondary English teachers from Rider earned some valuable experience during the fall semester through a writing partnership between Rider’s School of Education and freshmen from Notre Dame High School in Lawrence.
Friday, February 8, 2013

There is much to be said for helping your neighbor. What sometimes begins with a simple act of kindness – shoveling their sidewalk after a snowfall, for example – can often turn into a mutually beneficial relationship that helps you both grow.

That was the case of some Secondary Education majors from Rider and a group of nearly 50 freshmen at nearby Notre Dame High School during the fall semester. For the third year in a row, the Rider students, who plan to teach English after graduating, got to work with 9th graders from the neighboring school, less than two miles down Lawrenceville Road, revising and editing their writing, through a partnership program between the two institutions.

Over the course of the fall, Notre Dame students each wrote three pieces: a narrative, a poem and an essay, and were identified simply by number, rather than by name. Each piece was relayed between the high school and the University. Once Rider students edited the work, their younger counterparts would revise and return it, continuing until each piece was final. Both sets of students finally met in late December in the Notre Dame Media Center, where a published compilation of each student’s work was unveiled before the students and their families.

The English Education Writing Partnership was the brainchild of Mari Ann Blemings, an English teacher at Notre Dame, and Rider’s Dr. Kathleen Pierce, associate professor in the School of Education, who began the joint effort in 2010.

“We came up with this idea that we would have my students write, and the Rider students would revise and edit, but there would be no grading involved,” said Blemings, who added that the program also gives Rider students a firsthand chance to review the work of actual student writing, rather than seeing it in a textbook.

Pierce says the partnership provides invaluable experience to her Rider students, who began student-teaching in the spring semester.

“My students see how 14-year-old develop, how they mature, even over the course of their first few months of high school,” she said. “Not only do they learn about editing and revising the work of students, but they learn that feedback is not just a red pen.”

Pierce and Blemings agreed that the students who participated in this year’s partnership – from both institutions – were the most enthusiastic so far, a testament to the growing popularity of the program.

For Mark Pratico ’13, a Secondary Education and English dual major, the chance to partner with a Notre Dame student had additional meaning. “I actually spoke at my graduation from Notre Dame, and I was really excited when I found out we’d be doing a project at my old high school,” said the Hamilton, N.J., resident who has also worked as a sports contributor to The Trentonian. “Both places have had such an impact on me as a student and a person.”

The published collection of student-penned works featured encouraging comments on the back cover from the Rider mentors, such as graduate student Jessica Magby of Robbinsville.

“It was great to be able to work with you all this semester,” wrote Magby in her parting thoughts. “Keep writing and keep questioning. It’s not about the answers, it’s about the search!”

Mary Ann Liptak, chair of the English and World Language department at the high school, is glad to see such a natural partnership thrive.

“I think it’s important to build bridges like this, giving all these students an opportunity to work together,” Liptak said. “The beauty of this exchange is that it’s mutually beneficial.”

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Rider's Dr. Kathleen Pierce (left) listens to Notre Dame's Mari Ann Blemings congratulate their students.