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Mercado, Wenger receive $54K grant for Elementary Writing Project

ISSUED: 5 May 2015
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Two Shepherd University professors received a $54,245 grant from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission that will allow them to work with Berkeley County school teachers through the Elementary Writing Project to help improve the writing skills of students in first through fifth grades.

The total cost for the project is $82,101. Sixty six percent of that will be covered by the grant, which comes from federal funds. The other 34 percent will come from in-kind contributions from Shepherd and in-kind and monetary contributions from Berkeley County Schools.

Dr. Rebecca Mercado, associate professor of education, and Dr. Christy Wenger, assistant professor of English and coordinator of the university’s writing program, received the grant to implement the project. The two will develop a training workshop and material that will give 30 Berkeley County teachers strategies for teaching narrative, opinion, and informational writing to their students.

Berkeley County will select the 30 teachers from eight schools to participate in the project. They will attend the workshop, which will take place in July at Shepherd’s Martinsburg Center, and follow-up sessions next fall and spring. Beverly Hoffmaster, instructional specialist for Berkeley County Schools, said the schools were chosen based on need and a recommendation from the county improvement team. They are Berkeley Heights Elementary, Burke Street Elementary, Winchester Avenue Elementary, Eagle School Intermediate, Orchard View Intermediate, Mountain Ridge Intermediate, Opequon Elementary, and Tuscarora Elementary.

Wenger said the workshop will focus on teaching students to incorporate critical thinking into various writing styles.

“Part of what I’m hoping to bring to the workshop is a focus on not just how to help students express themselves in personal writing, but also more in argumentation and persuasive writing,” Wenger said. “There’s ever more interest and need for students to develop those skills early on so that they’re learning and honing them throughout their secondary education. And then they come to college ready for that kind of writing.”

Wenger calls argumentation and persuasive writing the foundation of academic writing. She and Mercado hope if students learn and practice these skills throughout elementary, middle, and high school, they’ll have an easier transition to college.

And Mercado points out that reading and writing well is important to learning in all subjects.

“I think it will help them to be better students overall because of how important reading and writing are throughout the curriculum,” she said.

Wenger said the workshop will also focus on digital technology that can increase students’ excitement about the writing process and help them hone their skills.

“Bringing in technology is important to revitalizing the writing process and also to meet students where they are, because when they’re outside the classroom, that’s what they’re doing,” she said. “Technology can enliven writing. But it’s also more practical to the kind of writing that students and working adults are asked to do on a daily basis.”

Wenger said there are free online tools that students can use to improve their writing and learn to communicate to a broader audience.

“One example is creating a blog,” Wenger said. “There are various types of blogs that are free, where students can be exposed to blogging as a primary form of persuasive writing.”

Wenger pointed out that there might be privacy concerns with having elementary-age students write content that goes online, but teachers can set up the blog so only the class can read and participate in it.

“That’s still opening it up beyond the student just writing to the teacher,” she said. “Audience awareness is key when you’re writing, and creating an in-class blog helps students develop these basic rhetorical skills.”

Mercado said the Elementary Writing Project will also benefit Shepherd students who are currently earning teaching degrees. The teachers who attend the summer workshop will pass along what they learn and mentor education majors.

“One of the most exciting things for me about this grant is a component by which the teachers who decide to come to our workshop will also be supporting our pre-service candidates in the fall and spring,” Mercado said. “Our pedagogy students in elementary education go out for extended field placements, and these particular teachers will help us with developing writing in their classrooms.”

Mercado said the university and county school system will create instructional material and multimedia modules that will be available at Shepherd and in the Berkeley County schools so education majors and teachers who don’t attend the workshop will have access to them.

Teachers attending the workshop will be eligible to receive continuing education credit. For more information about the program, contact Mercado at

Listen to the interview with Dr. Rebecca Mercado and Dr. Christy Wenger HERE.

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