New National Writing Project Site for Area Teachers

SUNY Cortland recently was approved for long-term, renewable federal funding to start a local branch of the National Writing Project as a means of helping outstanding teachers across Central New York improve their practice through writing and research.

Called the Seven Valleys Writing Project (SVWP), the project's centerpiece as with other National Writing Projects will be a month-long Summer Institute. The College's Summer Institute will take place from July 7-Aug. 1 at Main Street SUNY Cortland, an extension facility the College operates at 9 Main St. in downtown Cortland.

A group of 15 competitively selected and outstanding kindergarten through 12th grade teachers from many fields of study will attend the institute. The educators will hone their written expression and improve research education-related subjects. Subsequently, they will share their knowledge with colleagues and students back in their home districts.

"Where teachers recommend teachers, we get the best," said the College's project director, David Franke, an associate professor of English and professional writing.

Franke was the lead writer of the successful grant application. He currently oversees the $30,000 in federal Department of Education funding, which was matched by a $35,000 grant approved through SUNY Cortland's President's Cabinet.

On Wednesday, Jan. 16, the SVWP Advisory Board will host a reception and meeting for area supporters of literacy education from 3:30-5 p.m. at Main Street SUNY Cortland. Individuals interested in attending the event should RSVP in advance by contacting Franke at or (607) 753-5945. City of Cortland Mayor Thomas Gallagher, SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum and Cortland City Schools Superintendent Larry Spring will attend.

During February, the project managers plan to interview and select the 15 Summer Institute participants from among the group of candidates presented by individual districts.

The seed money begins a multi-year project of serving 79 school districts in an eight-county territory located within a 100-mile radius of Cortland. Applicants are required to have at least two years of teaching experience and will be chosen from districts in Cortland, Madison, Chenango, Broome, Tioga, Tompkins, Cayuga and Onondaga Counties. Under-represented groups in teaching, including male elementary school teachers and ethnic minorities, will be encouraged to apply.

The Summer Institute participants will have an opportunity to develop individually as writers and to learn from SUNY Cortland faculty who are on the cutting edge of professional writing, new media technology, classroom teaching and learning techniques. The teachers will be awarded their choice of either a stipend for attending the institute or six hours of graduate level college credit. They will also attend a pair of retreats that are being planned for before and after the Summer Institute.

Franke envisions English teachers from regional school districts rubbing shoulders with colleagues whose focus may instead be science, social studies, art or shop but share an interest in improving their learning through writing for their students and themselves.

"There is nothing remedial about the writing project or what the teachers will impart to their colleagues or students upon their return from the institute," Franke said. "We start from the belief that writing is more than reporting or a generic skill divorced from inquiry and quickly learned. We see writing and learning as always inextricable and as a process for making knowledge for both individuals and communities.

"Writing well has rarely been a grassroots effort," continued Franke, who since joining the College in 1999 has run interdisciplinary writing workshops to support faculty as writers. "We want the teachers to look at their classrooms as research sites and ask themselves, ‘How does learning happen here?' Writing is the best tool for reflecting on our teaching practice. It's also the best tool for students to learn in their content areas as well."