CMU summer institute fires up local teachers for new school year

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 11:47 am on Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Troy Hicks, director of the Chippewa River Writing Project, collaborates with Kathy Kurtze, a language arts teacher from Carson City-Crystal High School, on a writing exercise earlier this summer. — Courtesy photo

MOUNT PLEASANT — Several local teachers had the opportunity to participate in a summer writing project before the start of the new school year.

Carson City-Crystal Area Schools teacher Kathy Kurtze, Central Montcalm Public School teacher Shannon Powell, Greenville Public Schools speech therapist Jamee Gunn, Lakeview Community Schools teacher Ron Patton and Montcalm Community College teacher Kresta Train spent four weeks of their summer break immersed in writing at the Chippewa River Writing Project Summer Institute at Central Michigan University.

This is Powell’s sixth year teaching at Central Montcalm Middle School. She teaches sixth grade math and English language arts. She is also director of drama in the middle school and high school and runs a drama club for the school district.

Powell previously attended CMU’s summer institute in 2009, returning this summer as a program leader.

“I love the intense sense of community that is built during these institutes,” Powell said. “Because you are all working so hard and enjoying it, and you are all sharing lots of writing, some of it quite personal, it becomes a place to open up and really share ideas, talk about teaching and writing in a relaxed setting and have a lot of fun doing it. Some amazing ideas and projects and friendships come out of these summer institutes.”

Powell said she appreciates how CMU’s summer institute is digitally focused, because all of Powell’s students use laptops in the classroom.

“Everything we did was completely digitally based, from having the entire schedule and every single item linked on a shared wikispace, to using Google Drive to share in writing groups, to … everything,” she said. “We spent a lot of time recommending and demonstrating all kinds of tech tools we use in our classrooms.”

Like Powell, Kurtze also attended CMU’s summer institute in 2009 and returned as a program leader this summer. Kurtze is a language arts teacher at Carson City-Crystal High School.

“One of my favorite parts is the writing groups,” Kurtze said. “In these small groups, participants learn the power of peer review, especially when using an online document. I plan to teach this aspect of writing — peer review via Google drive — to my students as soon as I can. We are in a period of transition with technology at CC-C schools, but I hope to be able to have my students using Google drive by mid-year.”

Kurtze and Powell agree that CMU’s summer institute is a transforming process in professional development.

“All of the participants I have ever known to attend have been thrilled with the experience,” Powell said. “It takes up a good chunk of your summer and is a lot of hard work, but it is the most amazing, rewarding learning experience not just as a teacher, but as a writer.”

“I wish all teachers had the time to participate in one,” Kurtze said. “It has made me a better classroom teacher, and for that I am most thankful.”

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