Most of the hallways in Revere High School are lined with skinny,
sherbet-orange lockers. But outside Nancy Barile's classroom, her
sophomore lit students have placed a stately row of poster-board
gravestones, complete with epitaphs, for the characters who died in
Ms. Barile knows how to hook the CSI generation. But it's her
flair for teaching them to write that earned her a recent award from
the College Board.
On this particular morning, the teens in her "Mysteries" elective
class focus intensely as they draft their own suspense stories.
Barile has already led them through the criteria she'll be looking
for, and the priority today is imagery - part of "Standard 15"
measured on statewide tests.
"What's imagery? Language that appeals to your senses," Barile
says as she writes on the whiteboard. "What does it smell like out
in the woods? Is there a smell of decay?" she suggests with a
"Out of all my classes, this is the most exciting - she captures
your attention while she's teaching," says senior Phillip Longo, who
first encountered her in an after-school class for students who had
Loved as she is for handing out creative assignments, never
"busywork," her students also give Barile credit for insisting they
put their commas in the right place.
"She helps everyone with their writing so much," says Autumn
Zandt, a senior in Barile's advanced-placement course. "It's been
really nice to have someone focusing on [grammar] before we go away
Teaching in Revere, Mass., for 11 years, Barile has built up a
reputation - as a feminist with a voice that more than fills a room;
as a stalwart supporter of the school's sports teams, plays, and
community-service activities; and as a mentor to students and fellow
teachers. It all feeds into her ability to turn kids into writers,
which garnered her one of this year's six Bob Costas Grants for the
Teaching of Writing from the College Board, a national nonprofit
association in New York.
"When students are able to improve upon their writing skills, it
builds a kind of confidence that translates into other academic
areas," says Sandra Riley, a College Board spokeswoman. With
colleges and employers complaining that high school grads too often
require remedial writing lessons, the $2,000 awards are designed to
highlight effective practices and support teachers' extracurricular
Barile applied for the grant to restart Revere High's literary
magazine, Crossroads. For the past three years, it's been the victim
of budget cuts, leaving no outlet for the poems, short stories, and
foreign-language pieces that Barile used to publish every year.
Her friend, history teacher Bill O'Brien, says the literary
magazine attracts "kids you wouldn't expect.... A lot of them use
writing as an outlet, and she can kind of channel that."
Revere, just north of Boston, is a gateway for immigrants and a
place where many families have long relied on blue-collar jobs.
Aiming for college isn't something all of the school's 1,400
students do automatically. But Barile tries to encourage anything
that might give them a feeling of success in school. Rather than set
the literary magazine up as a competition, "as long as it's not
inappropriate, I publish everything," she says.
Brittany Deptula, a senior in Barile's Advanced Placement (AP)
class, says she's excited about contributing lyrical poetry to the
magazine. She also started writing for the local newspaper after
Barile suggested it, and now hopes to study journalism. "She's just
one of those teachers that you can have, like, kind of a more
personal relationship with," Brittany says.
Melyssia Mansur, a sophomore, says she's writing her own
biography because of Barile's encouragement. And Brian Dudley, a
senior in her AP class, says he was astounded to find himself
sitting around at lunch with classmates discussing "The Awakening,"
by Kate Chopin, a novel about a young woman that was published in
1899 and repopularized in the 1970s. …