A competitive national grant awarded to a pioneering SUNY Cortland teacher preparation program means several benefits are coming for the Cortland Enlarged City School District and student teachers from the College.
“Flourishing Teachers, Flourishing Students,” a new project that aims to boost afterschool mentoring and tutoring experiences in local schools, recently won a Bringing Theory to Practice award worth $10,000. SUNY Cortland will match it with in-kind funding totaling $10,000.
The effort is a joint collaboration between the College’s School of Education, its Institute for Civic Engagement and the Cortland Enlarged City School District.
“While we already place our junior and senior education majors in practicum placements in the schools, those placements generally have to be during the school day in a formal classroom,” said Andrea Lachance, the dean of the College’s School of Education. “The schools are looking for our students to do more work with children beyond the typical school day — so this program will meet that need.
“This will allow our freshmen to get some early experience working with children while also helping the schools support the learning of children outside of normal school hours.”
SUNY Cortland plans to create a learning community for first-year childhood/early childhood education majors who, under the supervision of the school district’s teachers and staff, will work with children requiring afterschool help with their studies. In a learning community, a group of college students takes the same courses together and instructors integrate coursework for an interdisciplinary experience.
Starting this summer, when the project officially kicks off, the College also plans to train its faculty members along with local teachers and administrators to work as a single Professional Learning Team.
“What is really exciting is the opportunity for our faculty to work together with the school’s teachers to best prepare our freshmen for their work as tutors,” Lachance said. “Not only will this joint planning help build stronger relationships with our colleagues in the district, but it will provide a more enriched and enhanced learning experience for students on campus and in the schools.”
Bringing Theory to Practice grants, sponsored by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, reward colleges for extending learning outside of the classroom and advancing education as a public service that fosters civic engagement. SUNY Cortland has received funding for different projects every year since 2009.
The most recent pilot program centers on the concept of “engaged service-learning,” where students take a thoughtful and reflective approach to a hands-on way of learning. Several campus offices and departments outside of the School of Education are involved, including Advisement and Transition and the College’s Institute for Civic Engagement.
“It is clear that schools in our county need additional support,” SUNY Cortland’s project team wrote in a grant application, noting that New York state standards characterize most schools in the Cortland Enlarged City School District as having high student needs in relation to district resources.
“Our college is uniquely positioned to provide that support to our area’s schools,” project leaders wrote, pointing out that SUNY Cortland offers 49 different teacher preparation programs as the state’s second largest preparer of teachers. “We take pride in our institution’s commitment to teacher education.”
Both well-being surveys and focus group responses from SUNY Cortland students and school district staff members will be used to help determine the project’s effectiveness. Successful results could shape SUNY Cortland’s teacher preparation programs in the future, with the goal of including 80 percent of first-year childhood/early childhood education in learning communities.
“Our teacher candidates will be learning the techniques of engaged learning by participating in learning communities and service-learning,” SUNY Cortland’s project team wrote. “They will be able to apply and integrate these techniques in their own teaching.”