Salish Kootenai College Writing Center
When the Writing Center at Salish Kootenai College (SKC) opened in January of 2009, it was the first writing center on a tribal college campus. SKC is on the Flathead Indian Reservation in northwest Montana. About 75% of our 800-member student body is Native American, and they represent 70 different tribes. In addition to our vocational programs and nearly 20 associate degree programs, SKC offers 15 different baccalaureate degrees. Though our writing center works closely with our liberal arts department, we serve students from all these programs.
Until this year, our facility was almost entirely a peer-tutoring program. The director is a faculty member who also does tutoring, but all other tutors have been students. Student tutors are generally recommended by instructors and then apply for a tutoring position. Before they are hired, they complete a full quarter of training, which includes a class focused on tutoring techniques and philosophy as well as a minimum of 20 hours of volunteer tutoring (initially supervised by the director or more experienced tutors as needed). This both prepares tutors to help their fellow students and also allows them to earn their Level One tutoring certification through the College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA). SKC is certified to train and certify their tutors through all three CRLA levels.
This approach has been really effective in preparing high quality tutors. Many tutors complete all three certification levels and after working in the writing center for a few quarters are competent to work as TAs in writing classes. Our tutors also often receive requests to prepare and conduct presentations or lead writing workshops in classes. Another component of our tutoring program is our tutorial classes, which are offered in conjunction with both levels of composition. These are meant as an additional support for students whose placement tests indicate they are on the border between English 101 or a remedial writing class. Our tutors also teach these weekly supplemental classes.
The number of tutors working in the writing center has varied from three to ten since our staff is largely dependent on tutors’ credit loads and class schedules. They all work less than 20 hours a week. This fall we have also had two additional part-time tutors, who are staff rather than students. Their salaries are currently grant-funded, but if we are able to add a permanent position or two (in addition to the director) it’d be really helpful to address our most difficult staffing problem: tutor retention. Our best tutors are always gone after a few years because they graduate.
Our approach to staffing is one of many aspects of our writing center that has been constantly evolving and transitioning since we opened. Though our vision has remained consistent, we’ve had four different directors and are in our second (temporary) space, while plans for a permanent home are underway. The demographics of our student body are also changing. Although we’ve traditionally had a very non-traditional population, with students in various stages of life with widely varied academic backgrounds, we’re attracting more and more students right out of high school as our academic offerings (and on-campus housing and student activities and the like) continue to expand.
So far, through one-on-one tutoring our writing center has been directly serving about a fifth of the student body each year, but we hope to reach more as our space and staff increase. Those who do use our services usually come back frequently. Our writing center is filling an important need for both our writers who struggle and our top students who want to ensure their academic work is the best it can be. We’re excited to continue to grow to serve our student population.