22 Years Ago...
By Liz C. Stephens, Ed.D.
Before I go to sleep at night, I like to browse through a light, easy magazine like the kind you find at the grocery store checkout counter. They make me drowsy. The one I read one night in May 1998 had begun to lull me to sleep until I flipped to the last page. There it was. Rae Orion’s Forecast begged to be read—my horoscope. Naturally I zeroed in on Aries, my birth sign, and read about how Venus would draw new admirers, and the full moon would unleash my (nonexistent) “famous temper,” and public speaking would be good before the fourteenth of the month. The final line of text was what caught my now drifting attention: “Begin a major writing project on or after May 25.” How did the stars know? We did, in fact, start the Central Texas Writing Project right after May 25 in 1998.
Encouraged by my friends and mentors at the Greater Houston Area Writing Project (GHAWP), Peg Hill and Bobbi Samuels, I had decided to write a proposal for a National Writing Project site at then Southwest Texas State University (SWT). I had attended the GHAWP Summer Institute in 1989, when I was a teacher at Kempner High School in Sugar Land. As nearly all Summer Institute fellows proclaim, the experience changed my life. Among other things, it made me think about graduate school and possibly taking some master’s level courses. Six years later I walked across the stage at the University of Houston to receive my doctorate degree. GHAWP had planted the seed for that.
As a new assistant professor at SWT, I had hoped to connect with a local National Writing Project site. Only four sites existed in Texas then—the Greater Houston Area Writing Project, the West Texas Writing Project in El Paso, the East Texas Writing Project in Texarkana, and the South Texas Writing Project in Laredo. All were several hours from our university campus in Central Texas.
And so it began. It was the spring of 1997, and times were tough in the economy. I was advised that being awarded the $8,000 grant from the National Writing Project would be difficult if not impossible. I had nothing to lose, so I wrote and re-wrote until I came up with what I thought was a rather convincing narrative, one that explained why we needed a site in the center of our state. We were awarded the grant. Within a year of drafting a proposal for the grant, I was organizing the infrastructure of the site and planning the first Summer Institute of the Central Texas Writing Project (CTWP).
So much has happened over the last two decades—we started with 15 pioneer CTWP Teacher Consultants in 1998. We have conducted more than 15 Summer Institutes since then and added a concurrent institute at our Texas State University Round Rock campus. We now have 450+ Teacher Consultants in our network. We were the fifth site in the state; there are now 10 sites. We have received more than $1 million in state and federal funds, and our cumulative operating budget is more than double that when matching funds are added to the total. We work closely with area school districts and with our university. We hold yearly conferences for teachers, sponsor multiple Young Writers Camps, and provide writing retreats, research studies, and countless other opportunities for our Teacher Consultants to grow professionally. More than 40 percent of our Teacher Consultants have earned master’s degrees, and several have doctorates.
Twenty years ago I cut out that New Woman magazine page and highlighted in yellow the last line of my horoscope: “Begin a major writing project on or after May 25.” The clipping is filed among a collection of momentos that have a special meaning to me. I didn’t know it then, but the adjective major in “a major writing project” referred to the hundreds of educators and education supporters who make up the CTWP today and to the thousands of students who have benefited from them. It’s people who make the CTWP a major project.
We celebrated our 20th CTWP anniversary with a social and fundraiser on May 20, 2018. We were thrilled and honored that the National Writing Project’s Executive Director Elyse Eidman Aadahl was our guest speaker. She delighted the audience with an upbeat and entertaining talk on how sharing is what binds a community and how a tight community promotes the growth of each individual. The CTWP, as all sites of the NWP, is fueled by that sense of sharing. We are teachers teaching teachers, and we are growing!
Let’s applaud the CTWP’s past and envision a prosperous future together!
Liz C. Stephens is the CTWP Director. She was on faculty in the Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction for 17 years before retiring in 2011. She returned to direct the CTWP.