Wednesday, December 08, 2004 - ONTARIO - When Kim Kautzer and Debbie Oldar began teaching their sons how to write eight years ago, they didn't know their efforts would turn into a successful business.
From their living rooms and personal computers, the two home-schooling moms developed a niche in a market that grew to influence thousands of students nationwide and abroad.
"It just started growing and we followed the leads as they came," Oldar said. "We look at ourselves in amazement."
Since the fall of 1997, Kautzer of Alta Loma and Oldar of Ontario have team-taught a home-school writing class.
"Nothing out there seemed to be working, so we wrote a lesson each week," Kautzer reflected.
Their weekly lessons turned into WriteShop, a curriculum they sell to home-school bookstores and directly to parents through their Web site and conventions. The program focuses on skill building and teaches in an incremental and objective way.
WriteShop has been reviewed by several home-school magazines and will be featured in "100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum," a book by Cathy Duffy due out soon.
The business is so grass-roots, the women did not really see it coming. They developed WriteShop because they needed a way to teach their boys who were not naturally drawn to writing.
Word of mouth began to spread and their writing workshops began to attract home-schoolers from all around the Inland Empire. In 2000, they began to self-publish WriteShop handbooks and teaching manuals. Now they have two levels of the program for sixth- through 10th-graders.
Each year since they began selling WriteShop, sales have increased.
"We don't feel pressure to develop a marketing strategy," Kautzer said. "We were (only) in the red two weeks in our first year."
The program is designed for moms and dads to teach their children or small classes. It uses skill building so children are continually challenged, but are not slammed with too much at the beginning of the courses.
Kautzer said it can be difficult for parents to critique their children's writing, so WriteShop aims to make the writing process as objective as possible. Each lesson comes with a checklist so students know what's required of them. The checklist may require that several techniques be used in an assignment such as using a simile, various sentence structures and avoiding the passive voice. The checklists gets more advanced as the program progresses.
During a recent workshop at Oldar's home, 16-year-old Jaimie Rebelez, read aloud a descriptive paragraph she wrote about a cinnamon roll. If the class wasn't already hungry, her descriptions of the dessert's sticky goodness got some stomachs rumbling.
Oddly enough, Jaimie doesn't like writing all that much, which is part of the reason why she's taking the class.
"I learn everything except writing at home," she said. "I wasn't motivated at home."
Before WriteShop, Jaimie used a videotaped lesson plan, but the pace was too fast and she lost interest. She still prefers math and science, but WriteShop may have uncovered Jaimie's inner poet.
"It's definitely more enjoyable than any other program I've used," she said.
Previously, Kautzer and Oldar taught 20 students per class, but they have trimmed their groups down to 10 to make more time for their business. However, other local mothers have picked up more than enough slack.
Patti Kasparian of Corona teaches three WriteShop classes each Monday. Her daughter went through the program and is now a journalism student at Cal Baptist University in Riverside.
"As a teacher, I feel the most effective thing about WriteShop is that it is very incremental and it sets up the students for success," she said.
Kasparian is developing WriteShop Junior, which will use the same format as WriteShop I and II, but will be geared for elementary students.
"This curriculum will follow right into WriteShop," she said.
Diane Burton of East Highland started co-teaching a WriteShop class in September after seeing her sons blossom as a writer in the program.
Burton likes that WriteShop focuses on the fundamentals of writing and that critiquing is built into the framework of each lesson.
"I felt it took some of the subjectiveness out of it," she said.
Lisa B. McPheron can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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