There is no set deadline for applying. Instead, we do rolling admissions, beginning in January of each year. We continue to read applications and accept students until the program is filled. Usually this occurs sometime in May.
Applying reasonably early is encouraged. We usually end up having to wait list qualified students towards the end of the admissions process.
The workshop faculty are Associates of the Bard College Institute for Writing & Thinking. All of them are practicing writers and experienced teachers with advanced degrees (i.e., MA, MFA, or PhD). In addition to their experience in the Simon’s Rock workshop, they have taught in the Language and Thinking Workshop for new students at Bard, as well as led Institute workshops for teachers. They are invited to teach at Simon’s Rock because of their knowledge, teaching ability, and enthusiasm.
Although students are welcome, in their free time, to continue working on personal projects, workshop leaders will not have time to read or respond to them. Our focus, instead, will be on helping students explore techniques for generating new writing and on modeling ways of developing these workshop drafts through work in small writing groups. Regular conferences between students and workshop leaders will also focus on writing produced in the course of the workshop.
The Simon’s Rock workshop offers students the opportunity to work in a range of genres, including poems, personal narratives, short stories, and essays, for the purpose of strengthening their writing and thinking skills. Unlike “creative writing” programs that concentrate on the technical aspects of writing poetry or fiction, we teach writing as a complex activity that constructs meaning through language and fosters an engaged imagination.
Rather than taking classes that focus on different topics, the 84 students in the workshop are randomly divided up into individual workshop sections of 12 students each. The groups are heterogeneous in terms of age and gender. Each section is led by a workshop leader, and the students and faculty member then work together as a group throughout the three weeks. By getting to know one another well, students and teachers develop a sense of camaraderie that allows them to feel comfortable taking risks with their writing and thinking as well as sharing it with others in the group.
Daily writing ranges from reflective journals to stories, poems, and personal or reflective prose. The focus is on using informal, exploratory writing to generate drafts, define topics and questions for discussion, and make connections between what students already know and new ways of thinking. The workshop also focuses on ways of using writing as a learning tool, whether one is exploring history, art, one’s personal experience, or natural phenomena. Each week students present portfolios of writing to their workshop leaders, who respond by individually discussing them with students and by providing written suggestions and questions. The portfolios contain informal writing, works in progress, and finished pieces in various genres. Students who have attended other summer writing workshops typically tell us that at Simon’s Rock they’ve ended up producing much more writing and a much greater variety of writing than in previous summers.
Students’ work is not evaluated in any formal sense. Instead, both students and workshop leaders practice responding to one another’s writing in ways that help the writer to extend his or her thinking and engage in revision. We also ask students to do a good deal of self-reflective writing about their works in progress, believing that this helps them to develop more autonomy and self-awareness as writers. At the end of the workshop, parents do not receive a summary evaluation of their student’s performance. Instead, workshop students write a long, self-reflective letter to their workshop leader (which they are welcome to share with their parents as well). Again, the emphasis is on the individual student taking charge of his or her own writing and learning. Parents, of course, are welcome to speak directly to a workshop leader if they have particular concerns or questions.
The Young Writers Workshop does not offer college credit for any of its classes. If students wish to receive high school credit for their participation, they must arrange this independently with their school officials.
Each weekday the workshop begins at 9:00 and ends at 3:00. There are three 90-minute sessions, punctuated by a mid-morning break and lunch. The focus of each session varies, but a typical day includes numerous informal writing activities, work in small writing groups, and the exploration and discussion of various readings. The atmosphere is informal. Workshop leaders write with their students and also share their work in progress. Students normally have some writing and reading to do each evening and over the weekend. There are no workshop meetings on weekends, with the exception of the final Saturday morning.
Although the major “text” for each workshop is students’ own writing, students are encouraged to be active readers, responding via writing and discussion to texts from many disciplines. By reading poetry, personal narratives, short stories, and essays, students encounter different forms that they then may emulate in their writing. This exposure also prepares them for the quantity and difficulty of reading they will face in college.
Like the other workshops in the National Writing and Thinking Network, the Simon’s Rock workshop is modeled on the Language and Thinking Program required of all students entering Bard College. As such, the workshop is designed to prepare students for the kind of writing and reading they will be asked to do in college. The workshop helps develop students’ fluency and confidence as writers, expand their experience of writing in many genres, and develop enthusiasm for writing and reading. These skills are important no matter which college a student decides to attend.
In the workshop itself, the frequent sharing of writing in progress, the work in small groups, and the emphasis on collaborative learning help to build the sense of belonging to a supportive writing community. Students initially get to know each other as writers, readers, and thinkers. Ample opportunities for getting to know one another are also available outside of class, whether it’s a staff-organized dance, a supervised off-campus excursion, participating in a residence hall meeting, or just hanging out with other students in a residence hall lounge watching a film. Unlike some summer programs, we assume students will make their own choices when it comes to which extra-curricular activities to participate in and how much social interaction they need. We do not, in other words, devote time to mandatory “get-acquainted” activities outside of class.
The academic program is enhanced by the rich natural and cultural environment of the Simon’s Rock campus, located on 200 acres in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts near the sites of such theater programs as Shakespeare and Company, Barrington Stage Company, the Berkshire Theater Festival, and Berkshire Fringe. Students have the opportunity to attend performances by these groups during their stay at Simon's Rock, as well as to spend a day observing and writing at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA). Students also have ample time to enjoy the scenic beauty of the campus and its surroundings as well as to enjoy the college’s many recreational and social opportunities. These include hiking, running, biking, softball, tennis, swimming, volleyball, weight training, basketball, squash, and racquetball. Weekly on-campus activities typically include films, readings, lectures, concerts, crafts, treasure hunts, and dances. Off-campus excursions (e.g., a trip to a play) are chaperoned by residence directors and/or student counselors.
We have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drugs and alcohol. A student who violates this rule, or who is knowingly present when others violate it, will be immediately sent home. We also ask all students and their families to read and agree to (sign) a set of Community Guidelines, thereby indicating that both parties have reviewed them and that the student promises to abide by them while at Simon’s Rock. These Guidelines set forth what constitutes appropriate and acceptable behavior at the workshop. Students who violate the Guidelines as outlined in the agreement may be expelled from the program and sent home at their parents’ expense.
Students live in two of the college’s residence halls, along with adult residence directors (experienced members of our regular college student life staff) and student counselors (a mix of former summer program and Simon’s Rock college students). The girls live in one residence hall, the boys in an adjacent one. Most students will live in doubles, though in the past a few girls have been assigned singles (most often at their request). Students fill out a questionnaire to help the staff in choosing compatible roommates. Both residence halls include a lounge, laundry and kitchen facilities, and vending machines.
The residence halls are well lit and well staffed. Each student room can be locked from the inside. Following curfew each night, the staff makes sure all students are accounted for. Students are required to be in their residence hall by 11:00 p.m., at which time the residence hall doors are locked. The college’s Campus Safety staff is on duty each day and patrols the campus throughout the night. The college campus is fairly small, making it easy to keep track of people. In addition, Great Barrington and the surrounding area are viewed by both residents and visitors as a safe environment.
Students and their families must complete and submit an extensive medical form (signed by a doctor) prior to enrolling in the workshop. We also expect each student to have medical insurance. Although our Wellness Center office is closed for the summer, one of the college’s nurses is available a few afternoons a week to consult with students who may have questions or need minor care. In the event of a more serious medical issue, students are taken to the emergency room of the local hospital (five minutes from campus). All health care costs are the responsibility of parents or students. All health information provided to the college is kept confidential.
Parents are welcome to visit any time that a student is not in class. If you go off campus with your parents, we ask that you notify your residence director and the Campus Safety Office when you are leaving and when you expect to return. Friends may also visit, but only if accompanied by your parents or by adults known to you and your parents (in the latter case we require a communication from your parents regarding the visit). In general, we encourage you to focus on making new friends during the workshop rather than spending time with existing friends.
If you choose to drive to the college, you will have to give your keys to the director of student life upon arrival. You may not drive your car for the duration of the program (moving it to a new parking space once or twice for maintenance purposes is allowed). Getting into a motor vehicle with anyone other than workshop staff or instructors can be grounds for expulsion.
Our home campus, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, is the only four-year residential college specifically designed for students ready for college after the 10th or 11th grade.