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What you need to know for 10/19/2017

Brown School program hopes to help students boost writing skills

Brown School program hopes to help students boost writing skills

Improving writing skills is the goal of the Brown School’s new Capital Region Writing Center.
Brown School program hopes to help students boost writing skills
Annu Subramanian will lead the new writing center at the Brown School in Schenectady.

Regardless of what career students end up in, they need to be good writers.

“You may not write essays, you do have to send out business letters. You do have to communicate with others, so you have to be able to express yourself the way you want to be understood,” said Patti Vitale, head of school at Brown School.

Improving writing skills is the goal of the school’s new Capital Region Writing Center.

Vitale said the school has been thinking about starting the writing center for a while. Former students have come back to the school to seek help in writing.

“There seems to be more of a need in the community,” she said.

Vitale said they hope to start the program by serving 10 to 20 students. They will be primarily helping students of middle school age and older, but will serve adults, as well. Sessions can range from a half-hour to an hour, depending on the need of the student, according to Vitale. The fee will be based on a sliding scale, ranging from roughly $30 to $70 a session.

Vitale said writing skills are weaker because children are not exposed as much to writing. There are so many distractions, including text messaging and the Internet.

Also, for some people, English is not their primary language.

“They might grasp the language, but writing it is much different,” Vitale said.

Local author and teacher Annu Subramanian will run the program and offer mentoring and help. Subramanian said what is lacking in writing instruction is one-on-one tutoring for each student.

“That’s where we are hoping we can fill the gap and get the students to a level where they can be confident when they go to college,” she said.

The school will formally kick off the program in September, but Subramanian is already starting to help students. Subramanian earned a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Madras in India and a master of arts in teaching from Union Graduate College in Schenectady. She has written two books, including the novel “Waiting for the Perfect Dawn,” which used five generations of Asian-Indian women to illustrate the oppression women face in the culture. Her second book is about human trafficking.

Subramanian taught for a year at Draper Middle School in the Mohonasen Central School District and also for a few years at Brown School. She spent the last eight years teaching at the Academy of the Holy Names in Albany and now is back at Brown.

“Brown School is like a home away from home for me,” she said. “I often keep in touch with the teachers and the school in general to see where I can volunteer and provide help.”

Subramanian was also one of four national finalists selected by the Norman Mailer Writing Center for a short story she wrote, “So Far and Very Lovely,” about the discrimination faced by dark-skinned young Indian women.

The idea for the writing center grew out of a conversation Subramanian had with Vitale about the importance of writing.

“We thought it would be an excellent way to provide a resource in the community that would benefit not only Brown School students but also all schools in the region,” Subramanian said.

Improving writing is very useful in preparing to take college boards or Advanced Placement classes and in applying to colleges, according to Vitale.

“We want students not just to be proficient in writing when they’re in their language arts courses but when they’re in their science courses and their social studies courses,” Vitale said.

Vitale said the hope is that the program will grow and the school will be able to bring on additional people. Right now, Subramanian is the only staff person. She also works part-time at the school as a writing coach.

Vitale wants to empower students through their writing.

One student already being helped at the center is eighth-grader Zaina Siraj, who is writing a book about the problems young Muslims face in schools. Subramanian is helping to edit the work.

“I want to be able to tell those young Muslim girls that they are not alone and that they don’t need to feel put-down or ashamed. My book’s main purpose is to give Muslim girls confidence and give them advice based on my experiences,” Zaina said in a statement. The center will be open to students in the summer from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. For more information about the program, call Brown School at 370-0366 or send an email to

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