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Teachers spend summer at school

"Oh, teachers are so lucky. You get the whole summer off."

As a Catholic school English teacher accustomed to grading essays and diagrammed sentences late into the night, I use my summers to plan and prepare for the upcoming year. Yes, I make time for things I neglect between August and June too - like walking my dog, cooking real food and sleeping eight hours. However I spent this summer in a classroom. Sounds like a teacher's worst nightmare, right?

The Northern Virginia Writing Project (NVWP) is this area's affiliation to the National Writing Project, one of 200 Writing Projects established throughout the nation. NVWP began in 1978 at George Mason University in Fairfax under the leadership and guidance of Don Gallehr. Each summer 25 teachers gather to write, share their best classroom practices, learn ways to improve student writing, learn ways to include writing across the curriculum, explore opportunities for professional writing; and they do this all in an environment that is simultaneously easy-going and passionately driven. At the end of the five-week program, teachers have contributed to an anthology, prepared an extensive portfolio of writing pieces, read countless books and articles on writing and teaching writing, prepared and implemented a 75-minute presentation, and earned six graduate credits.

This year, I and Sarrina Manzano of Holy Cross Academy in Fredericksburg were two of the 25 Summer Institute fellows are teachers in the Arlington Diocese. While I have always seen myself as an English teacher, now I see myself as both a writer and a teacher of writing. The Summer Institute has prepared me for a new dynamic teaching experience to bring to the students of All Saints.

Manzano agreed, saying the project helped reinforced how she felt about teaching.

"I was lucky to spend the summer sharing my ideas with valued teachers, and in turn, learned new and innovative lesson plans to bring back to Holy Cross Academy," she said. "I am excited about returning to school in a few short weeks and impacting students at a whole new level."

Manzano presented literature-guided techniques to inspire writing students, and ways to solve writing problems through the modeling of literature. For instance, she teaches her second-grade students about word choice and growing their vocabulary through Jane O'Connor's Fancy Nancy series.

While Manzano and I recognized that our curriculum and school environment differs from public school teachers, it was never an issue.

"Catholic schools are known for their high academic standards, and the teachers of language arts in Catholic schools, like Norma and Sarrina, have much to contribute to the professional conversations on subject matter, teaching practices and student development," said Paul Rogers, co-director of this summer's institute.

We spent the summer in a windowless room (except for a Writing Marathon in Winchester) with other teachers who love teaching as much as we do, who love writing as much as we do and who didn't want to be anywhere else this summer but in this classroom. So yes, teachers are lucky to have the whole summer off - so we can grow professionally and passionately and bring that all back to our classrooms.

Coto teaches English at All Saints School in Manassas.

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