Peer-to-Peer Learning at Baltimore City College Transforms Academic Landscape

My name is Lena Tashjian and I am the proud founder and director of the Baltimore City College Writing Center – a peer run tutoring program designed to provide academic support to students who need help with their writing. When I first started the writing center, I had two goals: the first goal was to help our students succeed and the second goal was to close the achievement gap. Because our school is predominantly African-American, I also thought a lot about representation and about how important it was to ensure that our center was staffed by young people of color. I wanted our tutors to see themselves as leaders and scholars and I wanted them to understand their role in cultivating a broader community of leaders and scholars.

This vision has now become a reality. The BCC Writing Center is staffed by tutors who embody true leadership skills and who are motivated by a desire to support their peers. Their support has resulted in an increase in student achievement and an increase in participation in higher level programming. But these achievements are not only about academics. This is social justice work. Providing students of color with additional supports like one-on-one tutoring minimizes the achievement gap while creating access and equity for otherwise marginalized and disenfranchised students. Providing that support by students of color reimagines previously skewed power dynamics and reminds us that we can work together to change the narrative.

While we’re exceptionally proud of the work we’re doing in our own school, we also understand that we have a responsibility to share our success with the broader community. To that end, we have presented at conferences like “Free Minds, Free People” and the “Social Justice Teach-In” where we work to communicate the importance of changing the academic landscape by insisting on diversity and inclusion. In a recent trip to the Mid-Atlantic Writing Center Conference, we were reminded that the majority of writing centers are predominantly staffed by white tutors. There was a great deal of discussion about diversity and inclusion without any evidence of diversity or inclusion. This reality reinforced the need to create more academic support spaces staffed by people of color – more spaces that look like the Baltimore City College Writing Center. To achieve that goal, we are now working on growing writing centers across the city with the goal of opening a writing center in every single Baltimore City public school.

Representation matters. As a person of color, I can’t say enough about the importance of taking up space. Not only is it important to take up space in our multiple and various communities, but it is also and especially important to take up space in schools and in academic communities – environments that have not always been welcoming for POC. That’s why I teach. That’s why my tutors engage in the critical, transformative work of changing the academic landscape one client at a time. We are here to serve as a physical, bodily reminder of the possibility and the power of inclusion. We are here to change the narrative.

If you have any questions about our work or if you’re interested in starting your own writing center, please feel free to contact me at ltashjian@bcps.k12.md.us. In the interim, I invite you to take a look at our work as captured in the videos below and at our website linked below.

Peer-to-Peer Success at City College’s Writing Center

Writing Center Conference at Baltimore City College

Baltimore City College Writing Center

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