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A group of local educators is seeking better education through writing.

And by writing, Rachel Bear means all types of composition across all school subjects. Bear is a former English teacher who now works for the National Writing Project, a California-based organization that oversees a network of 200 satellite sites.

Bear said the organization uses writing as the basis for a professional development program for teachers from kindergarten through college.

"Teachers are the best teachers of teachers," she quipped.

Bear and another representative for the National Writing Project met with local educators on Friday in anticipation of a local chapter — the Elk River Writing Project, which is based at Montana State University Billings.

The Elk River Writing Project has been in the works for more than a year. It's directed by Glenda McCarthy, Indian Education teaching coach for Billings School District 2, and Tami Haaland, English department chair at MSUB.

With support from the National Writing Project, sites like the Elk River Writing Project work with educators on teaching skills across grade levels and subjects.

"It's a philosophy. It's a community," McCarthy said.

The idea is to get teachers to foster critical thinking, creativity and professional skills through writing and composition.

McCarthy said that they're working toward becoming an official site of the National Writing Project. The sites are always based in universities, and two already exist at the University of Montana in Missoula and Montana State University in Bozeman.

This summer, the Elk River Project hosted a "summer institute" to introduce teachers to the program. McCarthy said there were 10 Billings teachers who attended and another from Columbus.

There are already 31 educators in SD2 who act as "teacher consultants" for the National Writing Project, she said.

Bear came for a small discussion about the future of the Elk River Writing Project. She was joined by Kelly Sassi, an associate professor at North Dakota State University. Sassi directs a writing project site there and is on a leadership team for the national branch.

A main tenet of the Elk River Writing Project is a set of goals that are specific to the area. McCarthy and Haaland said that they will place emphasis on programs like Montana Common Core Standards and Indian Education For All.

Another goal is coordination across school districts and the university. Reno Charette, MSUB director of American Indian outreach, said at Friday's discussion that she hopes to bring a nonprofit organization group in to partner with the Elk River Writing Project on a music composition program.

The Elk River Writing Project may officially become part of the National Writing Project this fall, McCarthy said. At that point, the group will begin seeking grants for educator development programs and partnerships.

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