By Lily Belcher

In 2020, the Poynter Institute was looking to expand their Write Field Program, a program dedicated to helping young African American and Hispanic middle schoolers improve both their writing and their confidence in their schoolwork.

The program is based in Pinellas County, but, prior to the coronavirus shutdown, Co-directors Ernest Hooper and Demorris Lee were working to expand the program to the St. Petersburg College campus in Ybor City. With the next year of the program set to begin accepting applicants in the fall, Hooper and Lee hope to resume the expansion efforts.

To justify the expansion, Lee and Hooper must prove an expanded interest from middle school minority students who hope to improve their writing abilities and close the achievement gap in local schools.

“This free, academic year-long program teaches African American and Hispanic middle schoolers how to be better writers, communicators and students,” according to the program’s website. “They will study hip-hop. They’ll meet a Tampa Bay Ray. With professional journalists as their mentors, they’ll even get better grades.”

Students who participated this year had the opportunity to meet Rays outfielder and Pinellas County local Brett Phillips.

“He provided some great insight to the students about life and working hard and continuing to remain committed to your studies,” said Lee.

While the Write Field Program focuses on writing, their 30-40 annual participants learn to communicate and take their first steps to success in the professional world, as well as boasting higher grades in school. Additionally, Write Field graduates have a lower dropout rate and advance to the next school year more frequently than their peers.

Participants will have the opportunity to sign up for the 10-month program in the fall of 2021 on the website. Students will meet once a month on a Saturday to discuss the lesson assigned to that month and will spend the time between the meetings working on a writing prompt. At the end of the 10 weeks, each participant will choose their favorite piece to have published in the Write Field Program’s end of the year book.

To donate to the Write Field Program, contact Wendy Wallace at wwallace@poynter.org. To apply for the program, email Andrew DeLong at writefield@poynter.org. For more information, visit www.poynter.org.