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Graduate Returns, Coaches Writing

College writing student Johvan Calvo studied an essay written by Lee High School junior Tania Montes and offered her feedback, tips to help her on the ACT test come spring. “I do like your wording; it does pull it together,” he said, encouraging her to work on her “hook” to better draw in the audience with her persuasive piece. “You want to add your own voice to make it more interesting.”

A 2013 Lee High graduate, he returned to his former classrooms to share writing tips with juniors. The Grand Valley State University sophomore, who is pursuing a degree in writing, is mentoring weekly at Lee all year long to help students perfect their writing skills in preparation for the college-entrance exam.

Calvo, who lives in the Godfrey-Lee area, is involved in the GVSU Distinction in Writing Program, which includes a series of independent studies including volunteer opportunities. His dream job is to write content for video games.

During his recent Writer’s Workshop in English teacher Lisa Britten’s class, Calvo first presented his own writing to students, explaining how to improve writing by using a variety of words, holding a consistent viewpoint, and appealing to a broad audience. Keep working on it for improvement, he stressed.

“It’s all about revision,” he told students, noticing he had used the word “despite” twice in his own piece. He said repeating the same word is redundant. “Even though I’m a little ahead of you in college and writing courses, I still need to revise. Getting the perfect draft is difficult and takes a lot of revision.”

A Coach and Role Model

After his presentation, Calvo met with small groups of students, to offer advice, helping them with introductions, details, transitions and conclusions. He said he is happy to be giving back to Lee students. “I knew thatthis was a very friendly atmosphere. It was really open and I knew they would try to make room for me,” he said.

He knows many of the students personally. “I like helping friends. Since they are a little shy to come to me as a friend, I thought I could come help them as a mentor,” he said. “I hope to help them be better in writing. Writing goes across so many subjects and it has so many uses. I felt like if they could become better writers everything else would be a lot easier. It’s all about explaining your opinion in a more academic way.”

He said he would have enjoyed help from a college student when he was preparing for the ACT, a test he called “stressful.” He is able to help students zero in on writing specifically.

Britten said it benefits her students to hear critiques from more than one perspective, and Johvan’s help provides more individualized attention for each student.

“If a student hears both their classroom teacher and their writing coach give them similar feedback, it can reinforce the idea that there really is improvement needed, because more than one person is noticing the same issues,” she said.

Johvan is a great person for them to learn from, she said. “He’s a Lee graduate who has gone on to be a successful student at a really selective Michigan four-year university.  Just knowing that he was a Lee Rebel and has gone on to bigger and better things helps current high school students imagine more post-graduation opportunities for themselves,” she said.

Junior Alexis Pablo said Calvo’s advice is helping him move forward with his writing. “He found problems and things I need to fix so I can work my way through it,” Alexis said. “He helped me know what I did wrong and what I did right.”

Junior Justin Jones said he liked to learn about writing techniques from Calvo. “It gives us a better idea of what we are supposed to write about. Knowing different ways of writing is always helpful.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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