Students partner with school district to copyedit newsletter

Marketing and Communications staff
Students visiting school board meeting at Fredonia Central School

SUNY Fredonia students share thoughts about what they learned about serving as copyeditors of the Fredonia Central School district newsletter at a December meeting of the board of education.

During the fall semester, WRTG 354: Foundations of Editing, a course taught by Professor Natalie Gerber in the Department of English and the new Writing major, partnered with Fredonia Central School to copyedit the district newsletter. 

The partnership, begun in 2020, revolves around the incredible efforts of Christine Slagle, secretary to the superintendent/district clerk, to expand the district's communications in multiple platforms (social media, web and print).

cover of Fredonia school newsletterWith the launch of a new district website and with a year's worth of Weekly Updates, that is, social media e-newsletters capturing ongoing events at the school district, this "communications collaboration" has been as much an opportunity to show college students the value, importance and potential innovation of an educational district's outreach as to help a busy district produce text that is clear, cohesive, consistent and correct. 

The partnership began with careful planning over the summer and launched on the first day of classes, when instead of syllabus review, the class met with Ms. Slagle, a 2010 SUNY Fredonia graduate who shared her communications strategy for the district and invited the students to use the skills they would be learning to help her achieve these goals. This would be the first of several in-person meetings and of countless email exchanges.

All semester, as the students learned the many nuances of copyediting, they worked on real-world content from the district. For their midterm project, the students copyedited a prior Weekly Update from June 2022. The choice of a retrospective project was intentional: students had only a few weeks of content knowledge and the grading was based on completion, not correctness, though students did share key points from their review with Slagle, who has made it abundantly clear that the district values this input and adapts or applies recommendations that are consistent with its communication goals and guidelines. 

For the final project, students worked closely with Slagle to copyedit the Winter 2022 Fredonia Forum newsletter, which was to be sent to all households in Fredonia before winter break. For the uninitiated, copyediting evokes the idea of correcting grammar and punctuation. But as students learned over the semester, such matters are a fraction of what a professional copyeditor truly does. 

Copyeditors not only correct any few outright typographical errors, but they also help clients make consistent decisions in well over a dozen matters of editorial style. As just one example, copyeditors consider when to write out a number as a word and when to use a numeral. Even a district newsletter, which reports on sports teams and competition placements, has a surprising amount of text devoted to numbers! 

A key lesson that the students in the course learned is that they must refrain from imposing their own stylistic preferences on a client's work. The manuscript is not the copyeditor's original work, but rather the work of the client. The goal of the copyeditor is to be invisible. 

That invisibility, of course, covers a great deal of work. Most readers would not know that a copyeditor not only marks a manuscript but also compiles a style sheet recording every time a distinctive decision is made (such as the decision to write "4th-grade classroom" vs. "fourth-grade classroom"). A copyeditor also composes a transmittal memo or a cover letter to a client. The letter explains what materials are being delivered and how the client may send back decisions regarding which suggestions are being used or not. The letter also points to any global issues, that is, any issues that surface multiple times across a manuscript. These may be issues of layout and formatting, grammar, inclusive language or editorial style. 

Since copyeditors' work is typically not seen, it was a special privilege that Dr. Brad Zilliox, who is  superintendent of the district, and Slagle invited the class to present to the Fredonia Central Board of Education at its meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 13. Students discussed what they are taking away from the project in terms not only of skills but also of appreciation and value for the district's continuous innovation and drive to communicate with all the students, families, faculty, staff and community members.

In particular, students singled out Slagle’s unflagging commitment to produce a continuous stream of quality text, image and video across multiple platforms and always within tight deadlines. The students also pointed out how the project deepened their connection to the town itself. They greatly valued the opportunity to connect with the school district and contribute to a greater sense of belonging for the entire community.

"Working with Ms. Slagle is a dream," Dr. Gerber said. "She is so appreciative of the students' efforts and expertise, and she values the collaboration as much as we do. All of us see the ways in which this newsletter enhances the sense of belonging for the entire community."

The partnership will also continue through the spring in a different fashion as two students from the course – Mara Marsh and Alivia Roehrig (Ms. Roehrig graduated in December) – will serve as interns. Previously, Sophie Wojciechowski, who had taken the course in 2022, served as an intern with the district. 

For inquires about the new Writing degree program, contact the English department, 716-673-3855 or email.

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