Art and Writing Encounter

Cal U hosts 10th annual art and writing event for high school students


Sarah Erstfeld, Contributor

The Art and Writing Encounter (AWE), an event on Sept. 27, 2019 at California University of Pennsylvania where high school and middle school students from surrounding school districts came to campus for a day, was a beneficial experience for all involved.
Every year, Cal U hosts the AWE. Professors from Cal U and middle and high school teachers volunteer their time to teach two sessions – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. High school and middle school students pick which pair of sessions they would like to go to. They are put into groups based on the sessions they chose and a volunteer college student escorts them for the day.
The college student takes the high school or middle school students to the morning session, to lunch in Gallagher Hall, to the afternoon session, then back to their teachers to return to school. The students experience one art session and one writing session.
Judith Totty, the coordinator for the event since 2013, says “The Art and Writing Encounter is giving middle school and high school students an art and writing class with a college professor to experience college for a day.” She says that a lot of schools have cut out art and writing classes, so this event can show students that there are careers in Cal U has been hosting this event for about 10 years. Previously, Waynesburg University held the event, though, according to Totty, there were never as many attendees there. AWE is unique to Cal U. Totty says that the university benefits from the event because students come to campus for a day and may decide to attend Cal U in the future for their undergraduate degrees. Totty says that AWE is growing, “Teachers in the classroom realize that students aren’t getting opportunities in school, so they bring them here.”
Totty says that the middle school and high school students benefit from AWE. “All the tests in kindergarten through high school are awful,” she says, “Higher ed isn’t like that.” She says that students will realize that college is a more interpretive place and has less to do with right or wrong answers.
Totty goes on to say that students will see that “artists make the world a better place. Artists get us back to what we need to be thinking about. We’re all human.” She believes that the AWE shows students this, and that this new knowledge on their part can influence their future career choices.
Totty says that the college students, who are mostly education majors because certain clearances are needed in order to volunteer, also benefit from AWE. She says that the event “gives them an idea of the responsibility they have to have in teaching.” Kennedy Johnston, a junior whose major is English Secondary Education, agrees with Totty. She says that it was good to “be around the age group I’m going to be teaching.” Johnston had a group of high schoolers that she took care of. In all of her previous field experiences, she had been placed in middle schools. She appreciated the chance to gain experience with high schoolers.
Johnston enjoyed escorting the kids, referring to them as “my little crew.”
She says that she was “scared the kids would get bored, but the professors did a nice job of making it age appropriate so the kids paid attention.”
She says “I will definitely volunteer next year.” Jenna Laudermilt, a senior student majoring in English Secondary Education, says that AWE was a “positive experience because I got to experience new things.”
She says that she decided to volunteer because she’s “graduating next semester, so why not?” Laughing, she also mentions that the experience will improve her resume. She says that she wishes she could have done more. “I expected I would have had to actually do something at some point instead of just sitting in the back of the conference room and walking them everywhere,” she says.
She says that one of the most beneficial experiences was “learning to keep track of 21 children when you don’t know their faces or names.” It is a skill that will come in handy her first few weeks of student teaching.
When asked if she would volunteer next year if she was not graduating this year, she said “Yes. Why not?”