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Writing Coaches of Montana has a lot to say about how great our communities are. 

Mary Louise Zapp-Knapp, Renaissance Woman

Mary Louise has been coaching students in Missoula County since 2010. She was drawn to volunteering with WCM because she is a former schoolteacher and missed working with kids. She says, “The youth give me joy and hope.” She also feels that the skills writing coaches help students develop are crucially important regardless of where students go in life. 

Aside from being a teacher, Mary Louise ran two restaurants and worked as a social worker, real estate agent, and professional theater performer. In each of these roles, she found that literacy and critical thinking skills were necessary to her success. She says, “Language is crucial to every aspect of adult life both in relationships and professionally… It’s important to know what you’re saying and how to say it in the most concise manner.”

Mary Louise reminisces on working with a particular junior high student in east Missoula who was very resistant to working with a coach on her book report. The student had very little work done at the beginning of their session, and they had very closed off body language. Mary Louise asked what direction they wanted to take their book report and reminded them that it was an option to meaningfully criticize the book they were reporting on if they didn’t like it. After allowing the student to honestly speak their mind, they quickly made progress on the assignment. By the end of the session, the student had a solid thesis statement and an outline for the rest of the essay. Mary Louise says that writing is emotional, and coaches ought to be cognizant of the psycho-social dynamics at work.

Mary Louise says she loves being a coach because, “We all have a need to connect, communicate, and be heard.” She argues that critical thinking and effective communication are things that everyone needs to actively participate in learning, and she’s passionate about helping kids develop those skills.

To this day, she is actively involved in theater and music, and she loves writing poetry and creating art. Currently, she is working on a middle grade adventure novel which will include poetry. She will also do her own illustrations for the novel.

WCM is thankful to have such a thoughtful and dedicated volunteer. Mary Louise is a highly valued member of our community, and students are lucky to work with her.