Briarcliff High School Writing Lab Helps with Everything but the Kitchen Sink

The writing lab has an English teacher present at all periods, except for period 4. Photo supplied

Class assignments and college application essays. Resumes and cover letters. SAT and Regents exam preparation. PowerPoint presentations. Public speaking.

Those are just some of the things students at Briarcliff High School can receive support for at the Writing Lab.

Open during the school day as early as 8am, the lab has an English teacher present at all periods, except for period 4.

“The Writing Lab gives students time to work directly with the teacher and receive support that would otherwise be difficult to provide in a class setting,” said English teacher James Tlsty. “They can make tremendous improvements.”

According to Tlsty, students across all four grades visit the lab for help with English assignments, which he says, is also beneficial to the teachers.

“This allows us teachers to see how students at different grade levels are approaching assignments and what those assignments are,” he said.

In addition to essays, students can get help with cover letters for internships and resumes, and document-based questions for social studies class. Science Research students can get help with proposals, as well as receive edits for full science research reports and assistance with composing emails for potential mentors. Fall is a busy time in the Writing Lab when upperclassmen come in for multiple drafts of their college essays and supplements.

Briarcliff English teacher James Tlsty. Photo supplied

It’s not just about writing. Prep for standardized tests, like Regents and SAT’s, is also available. Students can also have another set of eyes review their PowerPoint or Prezi presentations.

“We help students refine their presentations to make things more succinct or help with clarity,” Tlsty said. “We also help with public speaking. We help students with the content and also with adjusting their tone, helping them speak more confidently, and provide general presentation skills. I think having the lab available to students seeking writing help in all subjects can help them see how all the disciplines and subjects are inter-connected. This helps break the barrier and students can see how writing can be important in every subject.”

Senior Alex DiMartino comes to the Writing Lab whenever he needs assistance with an essay.

“I typically come during lunch,” he said. “It is very helpful to have a teacher read what I wrote because it’s very easy to miss mistakes. I appreciate the suggestions they make, they are very valuable.”

Tlsty explains that the lab allows the school to offer many high-level classes, something that is unusual for a district as small as Briarcliff.

“Our department head Jamie Mandel said that we would not be able to deliver so many college credit-bearing and Advanced Placement courses if we did not have the direct support of the Writing Lab,” he said.

According to  Tlsty, the special connection between teacher and student is an added benefit that can be derived from the Writing Lab setting.

“I feel like I have a connection even with students who have never been in my class,” he said. “As teachers, we really value those personal connections. I watch students gain confidence, not just as writers, but in their lives, and I provide support and encouragement. I also like helping with college application essays because I like gaining that insight and seeing what the students aspire to and their dreams. It’s inspirational and it’s what I love about being a teacher – getting to be part of their journey. This helps us teachers feel more like a community because we are not just giving feedback on writing, we are also helping students create a vision for themselves and honing in on their ambition.”

In the Writing Lab, students might reconnect with teachers from prior years.

“This is especially helpful to maintain those connections and to utilize them in the future, for example, if the student needs a reference or recommendation for college or a job,” explained Tlsty. “I still see students that took my classes when they were in ninth grade. It truly takes a village and it helps students to know that there is an entire network of teachers available to them.”




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