Wheaton HS Composition Assistant Named Supporting Services Employee of the Year
High school students spend a lot of time reading and writing. At any given time, they could be reading and trying to understand 20 or more texts at once. Leslie Atkin has seen the stresses of many of these students up close.
Atkin has served as an English composition assistant (ECA) in MCPS for 11 years, the last five at Wheaton High School. An ECA is called on to help students with the writing process.
After seeing the anxiety that some students faced, she came up with two innovative solutions that have changed the game for Wheaton students. These are among the reasons why she has been named this year’s Supporting Services Employee of the Year.
Three years ago, Atkin launched a weeklong summer seminar where rising seniors could attend free support sessions, ending up with a polished college essay before the school year began. This gave students a head start on the college application process.
Atkin spends a lot of her time outside of work reading the novels that English teachers assign so she was better prepared to offer feedback to students. Students acknowledge that Atkin dedicates an enormous amount of time to make sure that students put forth their best selves in their writing. She “not only inspires her students to write with depth and voice, but also encourages them to do so with optimism and grit,” wrote one senior. “Whether I’ve had a short question about revising a paragraph or been completely blank on ideas for an essay prompt, Ms. Atkin has been there to walk me through it all with patience and wisdom.”
The workshop has proven so successful that this year, when senior English classes assigned the college essay, nearly one-quarter already had completed essays ready to submit.
Atkin also established a Writing Center at Wheaton. Open each day at lunch and after school, the Writing Center offers a place where students in any course can bring in their writing assignments and receive feedback. When the center’s initial traffic was slow, Atkin started an advertising campaign, creating promotional flyers and a video that teachers could show to encourage students to take advantage of it. Today, there is rarely a slow day in the center, and students report improved grades on their assignments.
In addition, Atkin has brought classes to supporting services staff in the county. She noticed that while there are lots of training options for SEIU members, none existed specifically for ECAs. Today, she prepares class materials and teaches punctuation classes. The classes also offer an opportunity for ECAs to connect and share best practices.
Colleagues report that day-to-day efforts are what set Atkin apart from her peers.
One new teacher declared, “I don’t know what I would do without her,” while a veteran educator said Atkin is “able to help students focus on what they need to do to answer the prompt. Having her in the room makes my job easier because I can more easily monitor students’ progress as she is conferencing with students one-on-one.”
Atkin will be among the honorees at the annual Champions for Children celebration on Thursday, April 25.
The Supporting Services Employee of the Year award is given by SEIU Local 500.