About Us

Young Writers Program History

The Young Writers Program began in 2012 and has worked steadily (and successfully!) to support students in their writing.  Sponsored until 2020 by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, for the first four years it was a project of Santa Cruz Writes, a non-profit dedicated to enhancing literary opportunities for Santa Cruz County residents. Santa Cruz Writes was co-founded by Jory Post, Julia Chiapella, and Karen Ackland. Beginning initially with an In-Classroom Project, the Young Writers Program added a Dedicated Writing Room Project, an After-School Writing Center Project (the Word Lab), and partnered with Museo Eduardo Carrillo to create the Hablamos Juntos Project. With its tremendous growth, the Young Writers Program became its own non-profit in 2016, fiscally sponsored by the Arts Council Santa Cruz County. The Program is currently housed at Branciforte Middle School under the direction of Wendy Thompson. Contact Wendy at wendy@youngwriterssc.org.


How the Program Works

Our volunteers are the backbone of the Young Writers Program. They indicate interest by registering online and, after a conversation with Young Writers Program staff, fingerprinting, and proof of a negative TB test, are set to step into the classroom. Volunteers attend professional training sessions that help them understand how to work with 4th through 12th grade public school students and their writing. Classroom writing projects are typically teacher-initiated and take place throughout the year, lasting from four to eight weeks. Volunteers contribute at least 2 hours a week in the classroom or at our after-school writing center, The Word Lab. Projects culminate in a publication of student work or a public reading. One-on-one mentoring is invaluable in providing students the personalized attention they need as their writing develops. And because students are working with publication in mind, they learn the value of revision and editing. Whether you’d like to volunteer, donate, have an idea for a project or just want to find out more, the Young Writers Program we’d love to hear from you.

If you are interested in becoming a Writing Assistant or are a teacher who has a project in mind, please let us know by reaching out to our staff. And take a moment to review the current writing projects as they take shape each year.

Young Writers Program Staff

Wendy Thompson, Young Writers Program Director

Wendy has been a teacher in the Santa Cruz City School District for close to 40 years. She is a graduate of UCSC in sociology and education. She has taught at the elementary level and for the last 25 years as an English, writing, history, and art teacher at the middle school level. She has been a teacher participant in the Young Writers Program for eight years and is now, after retiring from classroom teaching, the director. She has served as a history mentor, literacy coach and curriculum designer for her school district. Currently she is also a contract mentor for the Santa Cruz County Office of Education New Teacher Project. Wendy has received a teacher of the year award for excellence in teaching and the innovator of the year award, together with teaching partner, Sara Goldfarb, for the development of the Innovation Center on the Branciforte Middle School campus. She is committed to bringing equitable writing opportunities to students in Santa Cruz.

Contact Wendy >

Julia Chiapella, Young Writers Publications Coordinator

Julia has had careers in graphics and journalism. She earned her MA in Education 14 years ago and taught at the elementary level as both a classroom teacher and a writing specialist. A poet and writer, she and writing colleagues Jory Post and Karen Ackland created Santa Cruz Writes in the fall of 2011 to enhance literary opportunities for Santa Cruz County residents. Julia directed the Young Writers Program since the fall of 2012. She received a Gail Rich Award in 2017 for creative contributions to Santa Cruz County.