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Writing project helps improve borderland area's literacy

Educators from throughout southern New Mexico have spent their summer at New Mexico State University improving their skills for teaching writing and literacy at their borderland area schools.

derlands Writing Project, a part of the National Writing Project, is sponsored by NMSU's College of Education and College of Arts and Sciences. It offers professionals a way to reach out to help improve the way writing is taught in rural area schools.

The project kicks off with the Annual Summer Invitational Institute, in its third year at NMSU. It is funded by the National Writing Project as part of the No Child Left Behind Act. As part of the act, any funds given to the project are matched by the university housing it.

"Participants gain an understanding of what teaching does," said Barbara Pearlman, co-director of the Borderlands Writing Project. "They learn how to look at learning, how to become a true authority on learning, how to look at a question and how to find out what they feel is essential in their classroom."

Each year, 18 teachers are chosen from a pool of 40 to 50 applicants, using a rigorous interview process. These teachers participate in the five-week summer institute and become a "fellow."

Project director Kyle Shanton said fellows are encouraged to hold in-service workshops for their colleagues, teaching them the skills learned in the program. Fellows also are encouraged to attend further career development through conferences, retreats and activities sponsored by the National Writing Project.

"I have learned how to become a better writer," said Mayfield High School teacher Michelle Reyna. "The project provokes thinking, research and inquiry and really equips you to go back into the classroom and teach."

Reyna said she plans to continue her experience with the project by attending all of its functions and eventually holding an in-service for some of the teachers she works with.

"I really recommend this experience to any teacher because I have gained so much from it," Reyna said.

The Borderlands project covers southern New Mexico from the Arizona border to El Paso and as far north as Socorro. The goal is to encourage the participants to become leaders within their schools and communities, to continue conversation with a broader audience, Pearlman s