Kate Hutton is the director of the Herndon Writing Center at Herndon High School in Fairfax County, VA, and the Vice President of the Capital Area Peer Tutoring Association. She served on an IWCA-sponsored panel of Secondary School Writing Center Directors at NCTE 2016 entitled, “Writing Centers as Sites of Advocacy.”
In the past decade, the Secondary School Writing Center (SSWC) movement has gained tremendous momentum and traction, and perhaps no region has seen such rapid growth in the establishment of SSWCs as the greater Washington, D.C. area. When I became co-director of the Herndon Writing Center in 2012, I was excited about what our center could do within our school. It wasn’t until I became involved with the network of SSWCs that eventually became the Capital Area Peer Tutoring Association (CAPTA) that I recognized how important it is for me to engage in a professional community dedicated to celebrating and supporting the work that SSWCs do. In an effort to highlight the ways in which CAPTA has unified and amplified the voices of SSWCs, I reached out to long-time and new CAPTA members to ask them to share how our network has helped them to legitimize and sustain the work we all do in our SSWCs.
CAPTA has grown out of what was once an informal network of SSWCs that began in Fairfax County, Virginia. Amber Jensen established one of the first area SSWCs at Edison High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, in 2009, and by 2011, SSWCs had established enough of a presence in the region to warrant partnering with the University of Maryland and George Mason University in hosting what has become an annual peer tutoring conference hosted by CAPTA. “From the beginning, it was evident that the sustainability of our centers would require working together to develop a vision for the role of an SSWC director and to collaborate on creating and sharing resources specifically tailored to our contexts,” Jensen explains. “The growth of SSWCs in our area, I think, is directly related to the work of this informal network of directors to create and share replicable implementation models, to collaborate in creating and modifying resources, and to support and share the emotional labor of defining and continually negotiating our positions in our schools and within the greater writing center scholarly community.”
In 2014, six SSWC Directors—Amber Jensen of Edison High School; Beth Blankenship of Oakton High School; Alison Hughes of Centreville High School; Jenny Goransson of West Springfield High School; Hannah Baran of Albemarle High School; and me—officially founded CAPTA, an organization dedicated to building community among, promoting advocacy for, and supporting the development and sharing of resources for new and existing SSWCs in the greater Washington, DC, area.
While many of us acknowledged the need for and sought out opportunities to connect with other university writing centers around the country via existing peer tutoring networks, we quickly realized that SSWCs, their directors, and their tutors faced challenges and opportunities unique to the world of secondary schools. CAPTA was born of the need to create a sustainable network that specifically catered to our needs, that legitimized our work, and that encouraged scholarship in the field of SSWCs.
Janice Jewell, founder of the Herndon Writing Center, reflects, “The creation of CAPTA gave a wider sense of legitimacy to the fledgling writing centers. I think that as centers become established, participation in CAPTA normalizes these programs, so that once established, they become part of their communities, and the impulse to do away with them can subside.” As a diverse group of directors from schools with diverse needs, the formalization of the CAPTA network helped us to establish norms and identify our own best practices for sustaining successful SSWCs.
Trisha Vamosi, Director of the Eagle Writing Center at Osbourn High School in Manassas, VA, and CAPTA’s website curator, has found “the resources and guidance from other directors to be overwhelmingly supportive. CAPTA has provided not only an irreplaceable resource toolkit, but a space inviting constant networking” among directors in the field.