Month: August 2017

Elementary Ed major honored for internship in Streamwood

Kelsi Spain

Kelsi Spain

Kelsi Spain began her college career studying business, but she soon realized that her heart longed instead to major in Elementary Education.

“I don’t want just to teach academic subjects,” says Spain, an NIU College of Education senior from Pingree Grove, Ill. “I want to change my students’ lives.”

Spain is already doing exactly that.

During her professional teaching placement semester this spring, she spent half of her time in an elementary school classroom and the rest of her hours as an AVID tutor in U-46’s Streamwood High School.

The AVID program encourages teachers not to simply feed facts but to empower students to learn on their own, a method she followed while tutoring high school students in whatever topics or homework they brought with them.

“We kind of guide our students through collaborating together so they can figure it out for themselves,” Spain says. “I’m just there to facilitate, and if they’re really stuck, I’ll step in.”

Although she plans to teach in the elementary grades, she is confident that her immersion in AVID has prepared her to provide “a unique, challenging and engaging education” to her future students: “The two worlds are not so different.”

Her exemplary work, which she continued daily even after NIU’s semester ended May 12, has resulted in an “Intern of the Month” award for Spring 2017 from NIU Career Services. Seven recipients are chosen throughout the calendar year; three of those will receive Intern of the Year scholarships.

spain-kelsi-2She is excited for the distinction but more grateful for the opportunities to practice her teaching.

“You get to see those students every day, and it’s amazing to see how they change. They’re about to embark on this next chapter of their lives – and, with me being a college student, I can give them that first-hand experience,” she says.

“Being in the classroom with students so close to me in age gave me a confidence boost to recognize that I can be viewed as a young professional,” she adds, “and that I have what it takes to relate to students of all ages.”

Jennifer Johnson, director of Teacher Preparation and Development for the College of Education, supported Spain’s application. Johnson has observed Spain’s “professionalism and leadership in multiple contexts and settings.”

“Ms. Spain has been characterized by her integrity, dependability and strong interpersonal skills,” Johnson wrote. “I am confident that she will continue to excel at meeting the academic expectations of her coursework while making meaningful contributions to the campus community and in our partner school districts.”

Patricia Maynard, AVID coordinator at Streamwood High School, also endorsed Spain’s work.

“Kelsi did a great job in providing the structure and facilitating the questioning that goes with this type of tutorial process. It helps to have a strong base knowledge in difficult subject areas – i.e., calculus, trigonometry and physics – and Kelsi had that,” Maynard wrote.

“There is also an expectation that our college students act as role models for our students. Again, Kelsi’s ability to connect to her students was an asset,” she continued. “I think she will do a great job as an educator- she has the right combination of intelligence, confidence and attitude.”



Annie Glidden Heritage Garden continues to bloom outside CoE

Gary Swick

Gary Swick

Gary Swick views gardening as fundamental to the future.

“We live in a society that thinks that food comes from a drive-up window or, at best, a refrigerator,” says Swick, an adjunct instructor of Foundations of Education in the NIU Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations.

“I think that people growing their own food, or being involved in growing food, is really going to be a key thing for us in getting our culture back,” he adds. “Part of that is connecting to the natural environment, and we can’t really expect people to protect something they don’t care about.”

As a longtime educator, Swick knows that the most effective way to change a culture’s deeply ingrained mindset is through young children who are still learning about their world.

Planting those seeds is the mission of the Annie Glidden Heritage Garden, a plot of four raised beds tilled two years ago near the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center.

Swick assigns his College of Education students to create and plan lessons in math, science, social studies and language arts based on the garden.

They realize through that process that gardens are powerful teaching tools as well as valuable resources for schools, he says, and become more likely to carry that back-to-the-earth philosophy into their eventual classrooms.

He credits NIU’s Communiversity Gardens as his inspiration. “I was in the right place at the right time. I am one of the faculty co-advisers, with Melissa Burlingame,” Swick says.

Dan Kenney, a key player in the Communiversity Gardens initiative, later helped Swick to construct the Annie Glidden Heritage Garden. “I told Dan that I wanted this teaching garden, and he made it happen. We wrote a dean’s grant, and I received it,” he says.

annie-glidden-1“I got it in my mind that gardening is a skill that every teacher from Northern Illinois University should walk away with if they’re not afraid to put their hands in the soil,” adds Swick, a retired environmental sciences teacher from Dundee-Crown High School.

“You can experience the magic of a child planting a seed, and being able to see that something they can eat comes from it later.”

Connecting that sense of awe and wonder to academics can bear great fruit, he says.

If students are excited over the miracle of seeds turning into plants, he says, imagine the poetry they might write! Imagine their curiosity to know where vegetables came from, how people used those crops over the centuries and their cultural significance to their countries of origin!

Lessons aren’t restricted to vegetable gardens, he adds, mentioning flower gardens and even rock gardens.

“This is really limitless,” he says. “The only limit is people’s imaginations.”

Equally limitless are the possibilities for society if today’s children embrace gardening in a way that matches Swick’s vision.

First, he says, naturally grown foods promote good nutrition, improve health and challenge business.

“You can grow food for way cheaper than you can buy it,” he says. “I’m a believer that consumers control the marketplace. That’s how capitalism works. If people understand their food better, if we start rejecting certain kinds of food, if we can start liking the crunch of carrots and celery instead of potato chips – then the food companies are not going to make it.”

annie-glidden-2Second, he foresees greater civility among humanity.

“Our human culture is not on a sustainable path. We’ve got all of this violence and squabbling. But everybody eats. Everybody has to have food,” he says.

“If you look at a supermarket, people are independent. They’re rushing through, loading up carts, not interacting, being controlled by the marketing on the packages,” he says.

“At a farmers market,” he adds, “it’s a community experience. Conversations take place. Relationships are developed. People are willing to pay more money for something than they would in the supermarket because they know who’s producing it, they know what they’re getting and, in some cases, they can have some control over it.”

Next on Swick’s wish list is a pair of aeroponic gardens, indoor tower-shaped gardens that spray water onto the roots rather than immersing the roots.

He wrote a dean’s grant to obtain one model for the classroom and another for the Learning Center in Gabel Hall; the towers demonstrate the ability of year-round, indoor food production.

Meanwhile, he’s already doing his part to put gardens into tiny hands. First-graders from NIU’s Campus Child Care are watering and weeding the Annie Glidden Heritage Garden while their college-age counterparts are home for the summer.



Visual Impairments grad student hopes to improve lives, system

Lizzy Koster

Lizzy Koster

When Lizzy Koster graduated from Hendrix College in Arkansas, she took a job as an assistant at a political consulting firm. It didn’t last long.

“Politics wasn’t what I imagined it would be,” says Koster, an NIU College of Education graduate student with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology.

Because she had always nurtured an interest in health care, she soon found herself working at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Her skillset quickly grew to include the processing of medical paperwork, knowledge she deemed valuable for future endeavors.

Yet another career – one woven into her DNA – beckoned.

“Education is a family business of ours,” says Koster, a native of Elmhurst, Ill. “My aunt went through the NIU Vision Program, and she went on to work in the Chicago Public Schools. She called me and said it would be a great fit for me. Kapperman actually called me, too.”

Kapperman is Gaylen Kapperman, who joined NIU’s program in visual impairments in 1974 and remains active in the Department of Special and Early Education as a Professor Emeritus. He and colleague Stacy Kelly are relentless recruiters for the graduate programs, which offer free tuition, fees and health insurance along with stipends to woo more professionals into a critically understaffed field.

Gaylen Kapperman

Gaylen Kapperman

Now Koster is on her way to a career as a teacher of the visually impaired and as a specialist in assistive technology as well as orientation and mobility. She also has joined Kapperman in conducting research and writing several manuscripts, one of which has been accepted for publication in a referred journal.

“Vision is a good fit for me,” says Koster, 27. “I love working with people and with different cultures, and when you work in special education, it’s kind of inevitable. You come in contact with kids from different backgrounds, and you have to come at them with an understanding approach.”

Gaining early experience through substitute-teaching at the School Association for Special Education in DuPage County has provided confirmation of her new direction.

“I feel like educators, in public schools specifically, are so pressed to get the right test scores,” she says.

“But with vision, although our students might participate in that statewide or national testing, their benchmarks are so different. Vision is not so much about grades but in giving them life skills and even social skills. Seeing them make a friend is such a big deal,” she adds. “Their goals might not translate to academic grades but to really improving their quality of life, and being able to watch them achieve their personal goals is so exciting.”

She also is eager to exercise her love of languages.

Her interest in learning Spanish began at age 3, when her grandfather gave her a book about Mexico. Her fluency blossomed as she studied Spanish from second-grade through high school.

koster-lizzy-3As an undergrad at Hendrix, she enrolled in a course on social justice and human rights in Argentina, traveled throughout the region and spent her junior year as a study abroad student in Brazil. Before embarking, of course, she taught herself Portuguese.

During the summer after her junior year of high school, she studied in Spain.

One summer later after her graduation, she volunteered in Paraguay, where she learned the indigenous language of Guarani.

True to form, she also learned Braille on her own before coming to NIU in August 2016.

Language, naturally, is the focus of research Koster has conducted and presented with Kapperman at the conference of the Illinois Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired.

“Kapperman is interested in a research project using a screen-reading technology for those who are completely blind or who need that vocal feedback,” she says. “We’re also working on figuring out Google Translate and other means of using screen-readers for those who are learning a foreign language or for whom English is not a first language.”

Following her graduation in August 2018, Koster won’t close the book on college just yet.

koster-lizzy-2She plans to earn a doctoral degree that will prepare her for administrative roles in special education – that’s where her experience in processing medical paperwork will come in handy – or to serve as an advocate for teachers.

“My biggest interest is in benefiting the system, helping all of the working parts – students, teachers, aides and assistants, families – to operate a bit more smoothly,” she says.

But the advocacy role might tackle an even greater concern, she says: teacher burnout.

“If there’s a way to make people stay in the field, that’s ultimately helping the students, too. They need that longevity and consistency,” Koster says. “If I could help people to achieve that, then that would be great.”



Paul Wright begins second term of KNPE endowed professorship

Paul Wright

Paul Wright

When Paul Wright first acquired the title of EC Lane and MN Zimmerman Endowed Professor in Kinesiology and Physical Education, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.

Publish research. Secure grants. Forge international partnerships. Serve as an ambassador for the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. Promote the concept of Physical Education’s unique role in social and emotional learning.

Three years later, with all of those goals accomplished and his endowed professorship recently renewed for another term, Wright finds himself at another threshold.

“Reflecting on what I’ve been able to accomplish with this additional support in the past few years is prompting me to think, ‘OK, what am I going to do now?’ ” says Wright, who joined NIU in 2011.

“I’m very pleased with what I’ve done. I’ve got wind under my wings,” he adds. “As I think what I can aspire to, it’s next-level things. I can reach for something I couldn’t reach for otherwise, and this additional support is going to make the difference. It’s really exciting. What an opportunity!”

Building on the foundation established during the first term of his professorship, Wright seeks to make his mark – and his department’s – in the field.

He hopes to publish research that impacts and influences peers who are reading the top journals.

Paul M. WrightData collected in his recent study in Scotland, combined with parallel data collected by his team in the United States and colleagues in New Zealand, will provide a good start. “This project will be the largest one of its type exploring social and emotional learning in physical education,” Wright says. “It will pack a wallop.”

Meanwhile, he wants to continue his steady stream of external funding by going after even larger prizes.

For example, the U.S. Department of State supplied $225,000 for Wright’s Belizean Youth Sport Coalition project in 2014. He’s now in pursuit of a $600,000 grant from the State Department, and believes he’s in good standing to obtain highly competitive grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Next year already will see the launch of an externally funded project in Sri Lanka, similar to the one in Belize, that promotes positive youth development and social change through sport.

Wright’s global initiatives also caught the attention of UNESCO, the leaders of which have asked the NIU professor to serve as a consultant and voice at the table to guide the planning of international policy conferences.

Closer to home, he’s working to convince the Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning to nationally recognize as a best practice the pedagogy model he researches.

“If I can get this endorsement of the work we specialize in, that will bring credibility and high-profile, external validation,” he says. “We’ll have very esteemed organizations giving us the nod, and promoting our work.”

Chad McEvoy, chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, believes Wright already is an “international leader in his field” who perfectly matches the description of the EC Lane and MN Zimmerman Endowed Professor framework.

Chad McEvoy

Chad McEvoy

“In creating this professorship, Drs. Lane and Zimmerman expressed a passion for enabling NIU students able to study under the very best faculty. That’s a powerful thing with an endowed professorship: the ability and the resources to go out and secure a truly elite and nationally recognized faculty member and scholar,” McEvoy says. “Certainly, Paul Wright fits that bill.”

The benefits extend beyond students, he adds.

“One of Paul’s real strengths is his ability to collaborate,” McEvoy says, “and what he’s been able to accomplish with the professorship is not just exceptional work on his part but in getting a number of his colleagues involved in that work.”

For Wright, that’s the point.

“An individual holds an endowed professorship, but the idea is to build the reputation of the whole department,” he says. “Personally, with these high-profile activities, if they’re good for me, then they’re good for the department. It’s wins across the board. We want KNPE on the radar.”



Alumna Alexandra Wulbecker shares wisdom with KNPE 583

Alexandra Wulbecker

Alexandra Wulbecker

Just two years after Alexandra Wulbecker completed her days in Anderson Hall, she returned to the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education with an unexpected message for the students who are following her.

It’s OK to not know where you’re going, as long as you’re passionate about what you do and prepared to do it well.

Wulbecker, who earned an M.S.Ed. in Sport and Exercise Psychology in 2015, found employment at alma mater Hoffman Estates High School as a special education teacher’s assistant. She then began to coach volleyball, girls basketball and softball, a sport in which she also offers private lessons.

Speaking July 20 to graduate students in Jenn Jacobs’ KNPE 583 class – Psychology of Coaching – Wulbecker explained how her passion for helping athletes boost their mental game put her NIU education to work while also illuminating a different career direction.

“There is no real clear path in sports psychology. It is what you make it,” said Wulbecker, who played for the NIU Huskies softball team. “There is no right or wrong, but just what works for you.”

For Wulbecker, that has meant striving to develop a new position as a “mental training consultant” for high school athletes.

wulbecker-alexandra-softball

Alexandra Wulbecker waits for the pitch
during her NIU Huskie softball days.

Drawing from her six undergraduate and graduate years at NIU, two of which were spent guiding and comforting new Huskies and their parents as part of the Student Orientation Staff, she combined her interests and talents in counseling, psychology and sports.

Next, Wulbecker began to replicate a graduate school project in which she collaborated with athletes one-on-one for a year. Three Hoffman Estates High School student-athletes – two girls and one boy – took part.

Athletes define what they want to accomplish. They list the things they most respect. Each determines a motivational “power word” for inscription and placement somewhere frequently visible – maybe on a locker door, she said, or maybe on a shoe.

They rate themselves, complete online surveys for further personal reflection and seek the feedback of family and friends. They then examine a list of their top 24 strengths, answering questions of whether they agree, what surprised them and what they think of the input of others.

Customization is crucial, Wulbecker told the KNPE students, and organization is key.

“If the athletes don’t believe in it,” she said, “they’re not going to want to participate or put their time and energy into it.”

Volunteers for the counseling are more interested and more willing to open up than are those students who are referred, Wulbecker said, but providers who are flexible, patient and good listeners are likely to succeed with anyone.

wulbecker-alexandra-2She also offered good advice.

Make each session a conversation. Use “relatable examples” and activities suited to individual learning styles. Change things up with meeting locations and agendas. Allow athletes to vent.

“What I ultimately realized is that these teenagers just wanted to be heard,” said Wulbecker, who is about to begin study in Chicago toward a master’s degree in Counseling with a specialization in Sport and Health Psychology.

Wulbecker’s presentation also focused on her professional endeavors as a coach, including her motivational philosophies and strategies, something valuable to many of the graduate students who already are working as physical education teachers and coaches.

After earning her next degree, she will become a licensed professional counselor.

She plans to continue working with athletes, including those at the professional and collegiate levels, and hopes to complete post-graduate training that would qualify her to counsel Olympians.



New Student Welcome event set Aug. 27 outside Anderson

helloThe CoE New Student Welcome event is a great time for all of us to connect with the college’s new freshmen and transfer students, and we encourage you to be a part of the fun!

Plan to join us from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 27, to meet and mingle with our newest students on the west lawn of Anderson Hall along Garden Road (rain location inside Anderson).

One of the most critical factors in retention is for students to feel connected to the institution; you can help students feel at home in the CoE by introducing yourself, describing your role in the college and why you enjoy what you do, and asking the students about their hometowns, career aspirations and extracurricular interests, etc.

We look forward to seeing you Aug. 27, and appreciate your efforts in making our new students feel that the CoE is definitely the place to be!

Please contact Student Services at (815) 753-8352 or cedustudentservices@niu.edu if you have questions.



Reading Hall of Fame taps Stahl

Norman A. Stahl

Norman A. Stahl

Norman A. Stahl, Professor Emeritus and former chair of the Literacy Education Department, was inducted July 16 into the Reading Hall of Fame.

The honor – one of the highest the literacy field can grant an individual – came during the annual convention of the International Literacy Association.

Established in 1973, the Reading Hall of Fame contributes, from the collective experiences of its members, to further improvement in reading instruction. Stahl’s colleague, Jerry Johns, was inducted in 2015.

Stahl received his Ph.D. from the Program in Language Communications at the University of Pittsburgh.

Previous to his doctoral work he earned degrees at San Francisco State University (M.A.-Interdisciplinary Studies in Education and B.A.-History), and the City College of San Francisco (A.A.-History).

Currently, he is a Professor Emeritus of Literacy Education at NIU, where he served for more than a decade as chair of the Department of Literacy Education. He also served as chair of the Curriculum and Instruction Department, director of the College Reading and Learning Program and director of the Learning Research Laboratory. He is an affiliate of the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Language and Literacy.

He has authored or co-authored more than 125 publications, has served on several editorial advisory boards and has been active in a number of professional organizations.

Along with his colleagues, Stahl was the recipient of the Distinguished Research Award from the College Reading and Learning Association. The team also was recognized for authoring the Outstanding Article for Volume 16 of the Journal of Developmental Education. In addition, this team was awarded the Outstanding Publication Award from the National Association of Developmental Education as well as the award for the outstanding article to appear in Research and Teaching in Developmental Education by the New York College Learning Skills Association.

Stahl’s current scholarly work includes an analysis of the role reading plays in the academic (general education) culture and CTE programs of community colleges, an academic life history of Francis P. Robinson, a content analysis of IRW texts and the historical study of the Golden Age of College Reading Instruction (1929-1946).