Campus & Community

Script for success

3 min read

Harvard Children’s Initiative launches WriteBoston to build ‘gateway’ skills

Jake Murray and Rick
Jake Murray (left) and Rick Weissbourd are researchers with the Harvard Children’s Institute who launched WriteBoston, a new initiative aimed at enhancing skills of Boston schoolchildren. They are standing before a public service poster featuring former and current NBA players. (Staff photo by Rose Lincoln)

They’ve tackled reading.

Now it’s on to writing.

Building on its successful ReadBoston campaign, the Harvard Children’s Initiative (HCI), one of the University’s 11 interfaculty initiatives, is launching WriteBoston, a communitywide effort to give Boston middle school and high school students a boost in learning and in life.

From the classroom to the boardroom, from the MCAS to a Ph.D., “writing is so important to kids’ school and work success,” says Rick Weissbourd, lecturer at the Graduate School of Education and the Kennedy School of Government, and faculty-in-residence at HCI. “Writing and thinking are two sides of the coin.” Weissbourd founded ReadBoston, a citywide campaign to get children reading at grade level by third grade, six years ago.

Announced by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino in January, WriteBoston is a public/private venture with partners as diverse as the city, the Boston Public Schools, the Boston Globe, Boston Private Industry Council, Citizen Schools, and PEN New England, a professional writers’ organization. The program targets writing in a range of settings: in schools with Boston High, the Odyssey Academy at South Boston High, and McCormack Middle School serving as pilots; in after-school programs and summer and youth employment; and in the community, tapping local authors, newspapers, and parents as partners.

Jake Murray, policy analyst at HCI and interim director of WriteBoston, describes writing as a “gateway” skill, one that opens the door to success not only in the language arts but other subject areas as well, from world history to math. Indeed, strengthening writing related to math – a major stumbling block to Boston Public School students’ success on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) – is a key initiative of WriteBoston.

Weissbourd is quick to stress the collaborative nature of WriteBoston, which will corral a spectrum of partners, from the City of Boston to parents to teachers to prominent local writers such as Sue Miller and James Carroll, to improve the writing of students. He and Murray plan to involve students, faculty, and staff from Harvard, as well.

“Harvard Children’s Initiative’s role is to bring ideas that come from research and practice to practitioners,” says Weissbourd, adding that HCI will share research from around the University with those who teach and evaluate writing. “We’re trying to be bridge people.”

While the program is in its early stages, gearing up for a major push in September, HCI is predicting success. “The reception to this has been really positive,” says Weissbourd. Some poetry written by students at the McCormack Middle School in Dorchester indicates that WriteBoston is on the right track. “It just blew us away,” says Weissbourd. “It was beautiful and heartbreaking.”

To learn about or participate in WriteBoston, contact Jake Murray at the Harvard Children’s Initiative: