Month: October 2017

Clinton Rosette seventh-graders ‘teach’ NIU Middle Level majors

crms-6Would you rather have hands for feet – or feet for hands?

Would you rather have the hiccups for the rest of your life – or the feeling that you’re about to sneeze? Would you rather eat brownies for the rest of your life – or cookies?

Nearly 100 seventh-graders from DeKalb’s Clinton Rosette Middle School pondered those questions and more Oct. 25 during a morning of fun, games and, yes, learning at Anderson Hall.

Their visit to the NIU College of Education mostly was spent with Middle Level Teaching and Learning majors, who conceptualized, designed and delivered activities geared toward one goal: teambuilding.

It’s a critical ingredient of successful middle schools, where students typically receive their first exposure to moving individually from classroom to classroom and teacher to teacher.

“One of the key concepts of middle school is teambuilding,” says Donna Werderich, acting chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and coordinator of the Middle Level Teaching and Learning (MLTL) program. “Our teacher-licensure candidates are learning how important it is to build community in the classroom and to build positive relationships with one another.”

Amanda Baum, a seventh-grade math teacher at Clinton Rosette, collaborated with Werderich to organize the trip and its events, which also included a question-and-answer time with six NIU Huskie student-athletes

crms-9

Amanda Baum, left, and Donna Werderich provide final instructions
to NIU Middle Level Teaching and Learning majors.

Happy to find in Werderich “someone as excited about this opportunity as I was,” Baum foresaw multiple benefits for the first-time endeavor, which is part of the college’s Educate Local initiative.

She also came to campus in advance to present a workshop for the MLTL teacher candidates that addressed the importance of building relationships with students, offered different ways to accomplish that and explored “what happens when you don’t do it.”

“This is a really awesome experience for my students to get out and be in an academic setting with older role models,” Baum said, “and it’s a really neat opportunity for Middle Level teacher candidates to practice on real-life kids.”

Middle school teachers also must understand, and tend to, the social, emotional, physical and cognitive needs of young adolescents, Werderich added.

Bringing the Clinton Rosette students out of their academic classrooms and into Anderson Hall’s gymnasium opened windows into those aspects of young adolescent development, providing NIU’s 15 future teachers with invaluable knowledge.

As the young people rotated through the stations, one activity wrapped them into six-person “human knots” by intertwining their arms. They then had to figure out, working together, how to unlock themselves.

crms-12

The word on the card is “syrup.”

In another activity, an index card inscribed with a type of food was taped to each forehead. Students needed to determine the words written on their cards – for example, “spaghetti” or “meatballs” – and then find the classmates whose cards paired with theirs.

Powers of description were on display in a challenge where the seventh-graders stood back-to-back in short rows, one of which had a pre-made Lego construction. The other row had the right Legos to build something identical, but had to rely on the oral instructions without the benefit of sight.

Clinton Rosette Principal Tim Vincent liked what he saw.

Vincent, a three-time alum of the NIU College of Education, often encourages his teachers to visit other classrooms to see how their students function in different settings and subjects. NIU’s exercise demonstrated exactly that for future teachers of English, math, social studies and science.

“Middle school is a different animal,” Vincent said. “Any contact the candidates can have here with students that they are going to be working with in the future is a benefit, no matter what.”

The Huskies are in the early stages of their clinical experiences, currently spending half-days in Huntley, Ill., where they observe teachers in action and learn how to craft lesson plans.

crms-8

Sarai Rivera, a junior in the Middle Level Teaching and Learning program, enjoyed her opportunity to take charge.

Sarai Rivera

Sarai Rivera

“Today definitely gives me a chance to have my own soapbox, and to direct the kids the way I would in the classroom,” Rivera said. “This is my first time having my own group, classroom management-wise, and it gives me good insight into how I’m going to manage my classroom.”

Rivera, who plans to teach math, also closely observed group dynamics.

“We can see how different groups of kids work together,” she said. “This gives us an idea of classroom spacing.”

For John Gallione, a future social studies teacher, many of the young faces were familiar ones. The non-traditional student works part time as a one-on-one instructional assistant at Clinton Rosette.

“These are awesome kids. They couldn’t have picked a better group,” Gallione said. “This is a really great opportunity for the Middle Level Teaching and Learning students to practice with bigger groups of kids at a rapid-fire pace. It makes us really have to think on our feet.”

John Gallione

John Gallione

Gallione said the event also enabled Middle Level licensure candidates to link theory to practice.

Not every lesson is fun, he said, so teachers must know how to motivate every student. Teachers cannot “fix their gaze,” he added, and must keep their eyes and attention moving.

“We’re learning how to keep kids engaged in prolonged activities,” he said. “This is huge for when you get into the classroom.”

Tammy Leigh, a clinical placement supervisor who meets with NIU licensure candidates in the field to observe them and reflect with them, called the morning “fantastic.”

“I just love to see how they’re interacting, how their personalities are coming out,” Leigh said. “When I walked in this morning at 8, they were all here to greet me, raring to go.”

NIU students gained hands-on experience with middle-school students, got a feel for the collaboration of co-teaching and forged professional networks with Clinton Rosette, Leigh added.

Sure enough, Vincent – committed to employing “a diverse population of teachers” at Clinton Rosette – is eager to welcome next semester’s crop of student teaching placements from NIU’s Middle Level Teaching and Learning major.

crms-5

Rock-Paper-Scissors — with cheerleaders!

“I’m excited about what the program can offer us because of the focused training they’re getting,” he said. “For them to identify their passion as middle school really excites me.”

Beyond the learning opportunities for the NIU students, the Oct. 25 visit proved aspirational for the seventh-graders.

During question-and-answer sessions near the end of the morning, the young people quizzed their temporary teachers on aspects of college life that included online classes, daily schedules and residence hall living.

“It’s just nice to get them on campus,” Vincent said. “There’s only so much we can do at the school to show them that college is possible, because some of them don’t have that model in their families.”

crms-4



DACA-ready: NIU College of Ed prepares teachers empowered to advocate for all students

Cynthia Taines

Cynthia Taines

When President Trump acted this fall to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, Cynthia Taines immediately looked beyond the inflamed political discourse.

Taines, an associate professor in the NIU Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, thought instead of the youngest of children, of adolescents and, naturally, their teachers.

“Undocumented students disclose their status to people they trust,” Taines says, “and it seems to me that it’s a a pretty common experience that undocumented students are talking to their teachers.”

She has seen it firsthand from teachers and students in Chicago and the north suburbs, thanks to her work with the Metropolitan Community Project. She has seen it in DeKalb as well, thanks to guest appearances in her classes from DREAM Action NIU and the CHANCE Program.

And, Taines says, she has seen that some of the future teachers in her courses aren’t personally familiar with the changing political landscapes that challenge undocumented children in U.S. schools.

“Many of them don’t think that they know anyone who’s undocumented,” Taines says.

For that reason, she makes sure that all of her students understand the gravity of the situation and its impact on the role they soon will play as professional educators.

“I bring real-life voices – their fellow Huskies, their fellow students – who look and sound like any college student. Not all disclose that they’re undocumented, or say that they have family member who are, but some do. They’re really brave,” she says.

“They talk through their struggles, their strengths and where they found support, and it’s often from friendly approachable people in schools, like teachers and educators,” she adds. “I’m trying to encourage empathy and some sort of moral response that doesn’t necessarily come out of a less reflective place or from parroting things you might hear on the news. I’m making this more human and more real.”

James Cohen

James Cohen

Her approach reflects and reinforces a deep-seated philosophy of the NIU College of Education, which proudly stands for educational equity and access for all. The college strongly believes that education is a human right, and that all students can succeed.

James Cohen, an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, enthusiastically shares those principles.

“Over 70 percent of the American population believes that DACA should be continued because they see that you can’t punish kids for the choices their parents made,” says Cohen, who teaches courses in multicultural and bilingual education and was an organizer of NIU’s Social Justice Summer Camp this past summer for K-12 educators.

Students in his classes learn about the injustices that exist in society, including institutionalized and systemic racism. They also are taught to view students from a “strength model,” where children feel welcome, respected and motivated to work, rather than from a “deficit model.”

“If you look at how our society is structured, it’s structured for people who are in power. It’s not structured for people who have brown or black skin, who don’t speak English as a native language and especially not for people who don’t have legal documentation to be here,” he says.

“In my classroom, I have students doing a lot of reading. They read about what it means to be an undocumented immigrant and what it means to live a live without documentation,” he adds. “We discuss it, and we build empathy. We don’t build sympathy. Sympathy is, ‘Oh, I feel bad for you.’ Empathy is, ‘I need to do something about this.’ ”

Cohen makes sure that his future teachers understand, and are ready to fulfill, their role as “advocates who actually act and don’t sit back and do nothing.”

“There’s a concept called social mirroring. If you belong to an ethnic group – which we all do – and society views your certain group as X, Y or Z, it’s very difficult to not believe that you are X, Y or Z,” he says.

“As teacher-advocates, our students need to advocate for their students so that they do not believe in all of these negative stereotypes that float around in our society,” he adds. “If you start believing that you’re lazy, or you start believing that you’re a troublemaker, those can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. You might drop out of school, get into trouble, join a gang or believe that school is not meaningful.”

Sandy Lopez

Sandy Lopez

Sandy Lopez, assistant to the director at NIU’s Center for Latino and Latin American Studies, is counting on NIU College of Education graduates to make a positive difference for current and future generations.

Around 4.5 million K-12 students currently in the United States are U.S.-born with undocumented parents, Lopez says. Another 1 million are undocumented with undocumented parents; of those, 65,000 graduate each year from high school.

Between 7,000 and 13,000 will matriculate into higher education, which is only 20 percent at best.

“It’s important for teachers to work with these students to let them know that there are opportunities to continue and to go to college,” she says. “Otherwise, these students will disengage.”

Immigrants bring many strengths to their classrooms – “They’re balancing two worlds. They’re bilingual. They’re bicultural,” Lopez says – and are resilient students, many of whom have learned to advocate for themselves, their families and their communities.

Yet they worry about their families being separated. They worry about being deported. They worry that their schools will report them, something that can cause anxiety rather than concentration in the classroom as well as mistrust of principals and other administrators.

Many children also serve as translators on behalf of their families, juggling critical interactions with everyone from landlords to doctors along with their nightly homework.

Teachers must strive for sensitivity, Lopez says, creating a safe space where children can find support while they share their fears and their successes.

“It’s so critical that these kids know that they’re not alone, and that their school is not going to turn them in,” she says. “They have no reason to divulge that information to anyone.”

Colleges are not immune, she adds.

DREAM Action NIUFollowing President Trump’s announcement, Lopez says, “I had a student who came into the center, shaking. She was having a hard time breathing. I said, ‘I didn’t realize you were undocumented.’ She said, ‘I’m not. My parents are.’ ”

Stories like that motivate Taines and, she believes, her students.

“Educational equity drives me,” Taines says. “That’s the reason I got into education. It’s a large piece of how we can achieve social equality, because education is one of the main drivers of opportunity. Just because there’s a language issue doesn’t mean that a student is not going to achieve or achieve highly.”

Taines accentuates her objective by sending students to research the language-learning programs of the high schools from which they graduated.

“Every time, I get some initial pushback: ‘My school doesn’t have that program. We didn’t have any kids in my school who were language-learners.’ I say, ‘I just want you to look. It’s possible that’s changed.’ The students come back and say, ‘I didn’t know we had this,’ ” she says.

“They realize they had only a slice of understanding about the institution as a whole,” she adds. “Their communities are changing quickly. The suburbs are become more diverse. Thinking through these issues, having them think through the issues and connecting to them on a human basis, will help them serve their future students.”

Cohen makes his point through a role-playing exercise where he is “the angry man on the plane” who’s in favor of mass deportation. The students must persuade him otherwise.

“It’s amazing. You can see their wheels turning,” he says. “You can see how they’re trying to convince me that what I’m saying is based on ideology and not on facts. They put me in the shoes of an immigrant student. They make it more relevant to me. They try to convince me that bilingual education and equal treatment of undocumented immigrants are the right, ethical and moral choices.”

DREAM Action NIU

DREAM Action NIU is a student-led organization that works in collaboration with the Latino Resource Center to raise awareness of the situations undocumented students face in the U.S. and, in particular, on campus.

Students gain the solid foundation for their arguments during every class period of the semester, he adds.

“My bottom line is that teachers have to be thinking about their students and less about themselves. We can’t blame our students for the context or the predicament they’re in. I want my students to learn the facts so that they can teach the facts,” Cohen says.

And it’s working, he says.

“We are turning out teachers who understand the systems and hierarchies of injustice that exist. We are producing teachers who know how to advocate for kids. We are producing teachers who are good pedagogists. I’m very proud of being a faculty member in the NIU College of Education and of all the good work we are doing here.”



Ed Psych professor encourages future teachers to ‘stop thinking of your students as students’

dugas-1

Special Education major Ashley Manor (left) questions a classmate
about her 16-year-old self before permitting her entrance
to the educational space known as Dugas Island.

Ashley Manor stands just outside the door of Graham Hall 336, facing a line of her classmates.

Each must answer her question before walking into the classroom. “If you could go back and talk to your 16-year-old self,” Manor asks again and again, “what would you say?”

For most of her respondents, that journey through time is not a long one. They’re college undergraduates, after all, barely removed from their teenage years. For Professor Daryl Dugas, who also must offer a reply to gain admission to his own classroom, the well of wisdom from which to draw is at least a couple decades deeper.

Dugas begins each semester on the other side of this brief inquisition, posing questions to his students as they queue up in the hallway, backpacks still slung over their shoulders.

He considers the greeting process integral to the “holistic learning” process, regarding his question-and-answer ritual as an invitation to enter an educational space known as Dugas Island.

“My philosophy of teaching is that it’s not just about delivering content. I’m creating an environment,” says Dugas, who teaches in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations.

dugas-6

Daryl Dugas, right, works to make sure students feel a sense
of ownership in his Educational Psychology classes.

“To really learn, you have to expose yourself, and that’s a really vulnerable activity. My students and I are building relationships together to support them through challenges. It’s very enriching,” he adds. “The underlying model of what I’m doing is a process based on principles of group dynamics. We’re not just a group of individuals. We are a group together. We are in a process together. We are growing together.”

When students arrive for the first day of the semester, they find the classroom door closed and locked. Dugas eventually appears with the “key” – a question they must answer in order to enter.

“I might say, ‘What’s something, other than education, that you’re passionate about?’ The questions evolve over the next few days,” he says. “I’ve had students tell me, ‘I thought you were crazy on the first day,’ or ‘I didn’t know what to make of you on the first day.’ ”

But through their answers, he says, he can get to know them better. He can watch momentary anxiety at the door unlock positive learning experiences on Dugas Island, to which they have “a temporary resident agreement.”

Students such as Manor, a junior Special Education major from Mokena, volunteer to serve as the greeters as the semester progresses.

That’s by design, Dugas says. “Within the ritual, something was getting lost when I always did it. There needs to be the ritual, but it needs to change as well,” he says.

“The most important thing is your relationship with students, not your content.”

“The most important thing is your relationship
with students, not your content.”

An in-class brainstorming exercise years earlier – something integral to Dugas Island – provided a strategy. “A student asked me, ‘Why don’t we ask you a question?’ I said, ‘That’s a phenomenal idea. This is your class, too, not just mine.’ Students really feel a sense of ownership.”

Dugas, an assistant professor in the Educational Psychology program, teaches classes in child and adolescent development as well as classroom management.

His goal is to instill in students that effective teaching-and-learning relationships must go beyond lecture, PowerPoint, note-taking and tests. He strives to elevate his curriculum in ways that prompt students to draw connections between the classroom and their lives.

“The point of my class is to stop thinking of your future students as merely students but as developing human beings,” he says. “A major problem with our educational system is that it deals mostly with curriculum content and forgets about the young people we are supposed to be nurturing toward adulthood.”

His path to this realization began in his previous career as a high school chemistry and physics teacher; he taught for six years in suburban Downers Grove and four years in a Chicago charter school.

Plagued by misgivings of his own efficacy with the teens, and whether he was teaching them things they actually would need to know as adults, his life changed when he discovered a mentor: a social worker steeped in the philosophy of group dynamics.

Through work with his mentor, he began asking himself questions about his own personal development: Am I an adult? Am I a man? He also jumped at the chance to help his mentor lead an after-school program for teens.

dugas-3

When he began incorporating those experiences into his chemistry classes – for example, he would spend the first two weeks of class not teaching content but instead establishing the learning environment – he earned a scolding from the principal.

Content, he was told, took precedence. That was his job.

“I feel like now I’m trying to deliver a counter-message to that: The most important thing is your relationship with students, not your content,” he says. “We shouldn’t pretend that all of our content is useful and that you’ll need it; rather, we should focus more on building connections with our students, and through that share them with them our own excitement about our content.”

As a teacher-educator, Dugas believes it’s vital to foster in his classrooms the kind of environment he encourages future teachers to cultivate in their own classes.

He shows his NIU students that content delivery is enhanced by prompting a sharing of personal stories, from both students and teacher, that relate to the lessons.

Such conversations lead to “feeling connected, a very valuable experience to have with one another.”

dugas-5“Everyone who wants to be a teacher wants to make a difference in students’ lives, and very few people talk explicitly about how to do that,” Dugas says. “I’m trying to demonstrate to my students that it is possible to create a unique, connective experience in their classes, but that it requires hard work.”

The benefits, he says, go beyond just having a pleasant time. “Through our work as a group, future teachers can begin to examine their own blind spots,” he says. “You can’t guide someone through a developmental process you haven’t been through yourself.”

His students also gain experience in pushing themselves outside of their comfort zones in how they participate and share in class. “Doing this in my class helps them build empathy for their own future students,” he says, “and how difficult this can be.”

Young people will respond, he says.

“Research on resilience shows that adolescents need adults other than their parents to look up to, an adult who’s in their corner – one caring, competent adult who took an interest in their life,” he says. “When I began working with my mentor, I realized that I needed to have something to share with my students other than chemistry. I needed a caring ear and words of wisdom. Once I began sharing that, it meant the world to them.”

His classroom at NIU illustrates his spirit and his philosophy. Stuffed animals, including an owl, a gorilla, a “Where the Wild Things Are” creature, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, as well as various tchotchkes, are stationed on desks throughout.

Meanwhile, he hopes to embody the teacher that he wants his students to become rather than lecturing them on how to do what he does.

dugas-8In setting up an Oct. 3 lesson on the development of romantic relationships in adolescence, he asked the students to set the morning’s framework.

For his part, he prompted them to set individual goals of how many times they would speak up during the next hour and how many times they would actively encourage others to share ideas. “Remind me to stop two minutes early so we can check in on that,” he told them.

Students broke into five groups to articulate their understanding of the idea of emotions as biological programs, cultural scripts and cognitive assessments; later, each group shared its thinking and opened the floor to comments.

As students shared their own personal stories and examples, Dugas also joined in to spin anecdotes about his young daughter that fit the discussion perfectly. It provided a good model: “The emotional responses you show will teach your students,” he told the class.

The students later played a game – one facilitated and modeled by a fellow classmate – that offered another example of how to connect students and teacher beyond academic content.

When the class ended, Dugas did not call out reminders of upcoming assignments or tests as might seem customary when students are packing up and heading for the exits.

“Thank you, as always,” he said, instead, “for a great conversation.”



And now … Sport Management grad students sell Chicago Bulls ticket packages for class project

Katie Reifurth

Katie Reifurth

Students in an NIU College of Education graduate class in Sport Management are asking an unusual question this semester.

Wanna buy some Bulls tickets?

The class, LESM 551, teaches the practice, strategies and art of ticket sales in the sports industry.

And if part of sales is who you know, or the ability to convince hesitant buyers to say “yes,” then Katie Reifurth is the perfect instructor. Her fiancé, Anthony Horton, works for the Chicago Bulls.

“I said, ‘I’m teaching a ticket sales class. Would there be any potential to have us partner with your sales department?’ ” says Reifurth, an instructor in NIU’s Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

“He was skeptical at first because the Bulls have never partnered with a college program before,” she adds. “I tried to sell him on the idea that I could give him the opportunity to feel out potential future employees, to get to know the caliber of our students and how they sell.”

Horton, who manages Inside Sales for the Bulls, soon liked what he heard. He then pitched the concept to his boss, but initially was met with similar reluctance.

Undeterred, he also forged ahead in making the case that giving students hands-on experience in selling for a powerful brand would allow the Bulls to continuously find and hire local talent.

Swish!

The Bulls have created two unique ticket packages for Reifurth’s students. One includes a Celtics game in December and a Cavaliers game in March; the other includes a Knicks game in December and a Clippers game in March.

Packages are perfect for individuals, friends, date nights or group outings, Reifurth says.

bulls-logo“I pushed to get one of the games in each package to be a high-profile game and have at least one game on a weekend so the students would have a better chance to sell the tickets,” she says. “If people buy from our students, they get a deep discount they couldn’t get on the secondary market.”

She began the class project by allowing students to sell the tickets in any way they wanted, which could include to their personal contacts on social media.

“We know as salespeople, and through the class, that this is very ineffective,” she says, “but it gives the students some hands-on experience with a little bit of failure. They need to be actively selling and using their skills as a seller. They learn to fail, and then they learn to succeed through sales tactics they’re learning in the class.”

Chicago Bulls ticket packages provide an additional lesson, she adds.

“I want my students to understand that selling really does take skills, even selling for a large and popular brand like the Chicago Bulls,” Reifurth says. “I hope they will have a new appreciation for sales, not just how difficult it is but also that it’s not something that comes naturally. People who are in it have to work hard.”

Final sales reports are due Dec. 4.

“They’ll make a presentation, just to me, summarizing all of the things they did in the project, telling me about the sales tactics they used, the number of tickets they sold and what they learned,” she says.

Sales managers at the Bulls “will get a write-up more on the basics of the numbers so they will know what contribution was made by whom and through which package,” she adds. “They will know who has the talent to possibly move into this industry.”

Reifurth, who is new to NIU this semester, is currently completing the dissertation phase of her Ph.D. in Sport and Entertainment Management from the University of South Carolina.

basketballA former intern for the San Antonio Spurs, she moved to Chicago to join Horton – and smartly placed a call to NIU in search of work as an instructor.

When she completes her Ph.D. in 2018, she hopes to continue teaching in higher education while keeping her professional contacts current and vibrant through consulting, an endeavor that will benefit her students.

“More schools and more programs need to focus on selling because that’s where most of the entry-level positions are in sports. It’s better to know the basics than going into these jobs not knowing anything,” Reifurth says.

NIU students have impressed her, partly because her previous experience has taught her that “a sales class is not something a lot of people want to do. It’s just a class they have to take.”

“The NIU students are very engaged, and I’m happy to see that. They’re very open to the possibility of working in sales, and they see the value in that right off the bat,” she says. “They’re also very excited about this project, which I’m excited about. Having passion for what you’re selling just makes it that much easier to do it.”



LEPF doctoral student leads multilingual efforts in Uruguay

Aldo Rodriguez

Aldo Rodriguez

Languages are deeply valued in Uruguay, where multiple tongues beyond the native Spanish are the norm.

“Uruguay is a country of immigrants,” Aldo Rodriguez, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, says of his homeland.

“We have more than 120,000 Italian citizens living in Uruguay. We have British people. We have Spanish people,” Rodriguez adds. “We have German, Swiss and Portuguese cities settled by immigrants from those countries.”

People living near the country’s border with Brazil are generally also fluent in Portuguese, which is considered a regional language.

And everyone is expected to know English, which the country regards an international language. Students begin learning English in fourth-grade.

The man in charge of advancing the government’s language ambitions is none other than Aldo Rodriguez, the recently appointed national director of Second Language Policy for the Uruguay National Board of Education.

“By 2030, we want a multilingual country,” he says. “For more than 40 years, our secondary school students have learned French, Italian and English. Authorities believe in the neurological benefits of learning multiple languages.”

Schools in this country should share that ambition, he adds.

uruguay-flag“I think U.S. schools will benefit by adopting these types of policies, first and foremost for the multicultural heritage the country has,” Rodriguez says. “It’s outstanding how diverse and culturally rich the United States is. Learning multiple languages will make people understand more about other cultures and people. When you learn a language, you learn its culture.”

Rodriguez, who is living and working in Uruguay while he completes his NIU dissertation, is responsible for crafting policy for all levels of education from first-grade through college.

His professional background fuels his passion for the job. He earned a bachelor’s degree in teaching English as a Second Language, a career he began in 1998. He’s also mentored dozens of teachers, designed educational materials, delivered workshops and seminars and served as the director of an institute for second languages.

Teaching also drives his Educational Psychology dissertation, which focuses on persistence in adult secondary school contexts.

“I started working at the adult schools. The population of this school is very unique since 100 percent of the students went through a negative experience with education, and they had to drop out of traditional education,” he says.

“Dropping out is something really common in this context. Sometimes you start with a class of 50 students, and only six or seven finish the school year,” he adds. “My questions were, ‘Who is successful? Who finished school? Why?’ ”

Jorge Jeria and Stephen Tonks

Jorge Jeria and Stephen Tonks

Coming to NIU in 2010 on a Fulbright grant to pursue his master’s in Adult and Higher Education opened many doors.

“When I read the profiles of the professors I was going to have, and the expertise they had on adult education, I just loved it,” Rodriguez says.  “I had Dr. Jorge Jeria as my first mentor, and I think I couldn’t have made it to the end of the master’s course without his support.”

Staying at NIU for his Ph.D. brought the mentorship of Stephen Tonks, for whom Rodriguez became a three-year research assistant. Before returning home in 2015, he also worked as a TA and participated in a search committee.

“My experience at the LEPF department was one of the best in my life,” he says. “All the people who work there are just great, and they made me feel at home.”



Suicide ‘survivors,’ counselors discuss uncomfortable subject, stigma at powerful CLS event

Adam Carter

Adam Carter

For Adam Carter, the moment came some 15 years ago in the preschool classroom where he taught.

Three-year-old Malcolm would not – or perhaps could not – sleep during the nap time; instead, Carter remembers, the young boy asked to climb onto his teacher’s lap.

Carter would have rather taken those few moments to rest himself, or to sanitize the classroom and its toys, but he nodded and plopped into the rocking chair. Malcolm joined him.

“He said, ‘Did you know that my grandpa just died?’ ” says Carter, who did not know. “Malcolm, at 3 years old, said, ‘I have mixed feelings about that.’ ”

For Stephanie Weber, the moment came nearly 40 years ago. She had recently “retired” from teaching to become a stay-at-home mom to four children, the youngest of whom was only 11 months old.

Weber’s mother, who had tried to die by suicide two-and-a-half years before, succeeded in her second attempt. She was 61.

It stirred within Weber feelings of shock, grief and anger, and bestowed on her a new title.

“The initials by our names are ‘survivor,’ ” Weber says. “We have been down in the trenches where we never wanted to be.”

Laura Bartosik

Laura Bartosik

Laura Bartosik’s moment came only three years ago. Her son, Seth, “so likeable, so compassionate,” chose to take his life at the age of 20.

Bartosik and her husband, Brett, overwhelmed with shock, tears and guilt, struggled to understand. Their only child was gone.

Seth was always “a happy-go-lucky youngster” and “a social butterfly.” Teachers told the proud parents that Seth was “a joy to have in class” and “a chatty kid.” He loved to fish, skate, play hockey and ride his skateboard.

Two years after he graduated from DeKalb High School, he was ready to attend culinary school. The taste of his bread pudding with caramel sauce is one his mother cannot forget; her voice breaks in sorrow when she says that she’ll never get to taste it again.

“I never imagined that this lovable kid, this social butterfly, would take his own life,” Bartosik says. “You feel your heart just breaking.”

Carter, Weber and Bartosik – their lives all jarred and redirected by personal grief or the grief of others – were among five panelists Oct. 12 at the NIU College of Education’s Community Learning Series on “Suicide Prevention: Sharing Strategies of Care.”

Panelists also included Brooke Ruxton, who serves NIU students, and Vince Walsh-Rock, who works with students at Downers Grove South High School.

Suzanne Degges-White

Suzanne Degges-White

Organized by the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education, the evening was dedicated to what Chair Suzanne Degges-White called “breaking the silence.”

It was a night of courage and questions, capped by a performance from Aurora’s Simply Destinee dance troupe, formed in honor of Destinee Oliva, who died by suicide in 2010 at the age of 16.

It was also a night with a challenge to “end the stigma” and to “ask the hard question” to those who might seem suicidal: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”

Mental health issues impact all ages and all people, something made vividly clear through the stories from the panelists. However, when it comes to suicide, many people are reluctant to confront it or to even speak its name aloud.

“We have to say the word,” Weber told the audience inside the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center. “Saying the word ‘suicide’ doesn’t cause someone to take their life.”

“Talking about death and talking about dying is hard. It’s hard all the time,” Carter added. “These are conversations that are hard to have, but they’re worth having.”

Ruxton, director of Counseling and Consulting Services at NIU, related the story of a former NIU student who earned excellent grades, was active in extracurricular organizations and held leadership positions on campus.

Despite her outward appearance, she worked hard to keep her inner suffering a well-guarded secret. She contemplated suicide every day. She cut herself to treat the sadness. When she chose to seek help from Ruxton, it took three or four therapy sessions for her to utter even one word; during those appointments, the young woman could only curl up into a ball and cry.

Brooke Ruxton

Brooke Ruxton

“I could see the pain, so I just sat with her,” Ruxton said. “I helped her to breathe.”

At the end of each appointment, Ruxton asked important questions: “Can you come back next week? Are you going to be safe until next week?”

The answers, fortunately, were always “yes.”

Eventually, as graduation arrived and their counseling relationship ended, the young woman gave Ruxton a note of thanks with a quote from Elizabeth David, a 20th century writer from the United Kingdom: “There are people who take the heart out of you, and there are people who put it back.”

“What meant most to her was feeling cared about,” Ruxton said.

Around 40 percent of students who visit the NIU Counseling and Consulting Services have considered suicide, she said. Around 13 percent of those have tried to kill themselves.

Young people today are “navigating this world that’s constantly sending them information” via social media, she said. When mental health issues arise, they might feel ashamed or embarrassed by what could seem to them signs of weakness.

“Not every person who is struggling is going to say, ‘I’m having a hard time, and I’m going to go see a counselor,’ ” Ruxton said.

Sadly, she added, the stigma of suicide prevents many from receiving the critical intervention they desperately need from friends, family and others in their lives.

“People don’t know where to start. They’re afraid to cross a line or open a can of worms,” she said.

However, she added, “you don’t have to fix it right there and then.”

Vince Walsh-Rock and Stephanie Weber

Vince Walsh-Rock and Stephanie Weber

Walsh-Rock remembers cases of suicidal thoughts among Downers Grove South students as “minimal” when he started there 20 years ago. Now, he said, the staff under his supervision bring two – or sometimes three or four – such reports each day.

Many teens feel a “pervasive isolation,” he said, a type of trauma that requires compassion and action. Their young minds can believe that “this is the worst thing that’s ever happened – and it’s happening to me.”

Consequently, he teaches “depression literacy” and uses “threat models” that clearly signal to caregivers and others when they need to access appropriate services.

He also empowers everyone from teachers and school administrators to custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and secretaries to “see something, say something.”

“If you work in isolation,” he said, “you’re going to make mistakes.”

NIU’s Carter, an assistant professor of trauma counseling in the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education, has concentrated his career on intervening in the lives of preschool children.

Despite their tender ages, and as impossible as it seems, he said, there are 4-year-olds with thoughts of hurting or killing themselves. It’s as easy as walking in front of moving cars or jumping out of windows, he said.

Carter prepares future counselors to understand the grief experiences of children ages 3 to 5 – “it looks different,” he said – to help parents and caregivers communicate with the little ones.

“It’s something we as adults tend to be very afraid of talking about,” he said. “We don’t want to have these conversations with them.”

Aurora’s Simply Destinee dance troupe performed at the end of the evening.

Should the unthinkable happen, Bartosik said, survivors can find ways to move on.

For the Bartosiks, the answers lay in honoring their son’s memory and by supporting, teaching and empowering his friends and other young people.

They first opened their home as a safe space for Seth’s friends to share grief and ask questions. “We thought, ‘We can all stumble through this together, or we can let the kids just suffer through this all alone,’ ” she said, “but that’s not who we are.”

Next, they launched a non-profit organization called Project Seth in the hopes that sharing their son’s story could potentially save the lives of others.

“This is how we got our hope. This is how we make it through every day without Seth,” she said. “He didn’t do anything wrong. Something was wrong – and that’s why he took his life.”

Weber, the executive director of Suicide Prevention Services of America, counseled the Bartosiks in their mourning.

Her love for suicide survivors is the foundation of all her work, which includes education and training, a suicide hotline, support groups, public speaking and, of naturally, counseling. “I am honored that they trust me with their pain,” she said, “and we move forward together.”

Of course, she acknowledged, not every answer will come.

“You have to keep asking yourself ‘Why?’ until you no longer have to keep asking. The person who has that answer can’t tell us,” she said. “We finally have to let that go and move on.”

Mark McGowan, NIU Newsroom



Getting the call: Builta deployed to Pacific Northwest to help train National Guard’s wildfire fighters

Steve Builta

Steve Builta

When the urgent call came in September for Steve Builta to travel to Oregon to train National Guard members in fighting wildfires, there was little time to decide.

Yet for the director of Technology Innovation and Learning Services for the NIU College of Education, the answer came quickly.

Two days later, Builta was on a plane flying to the Pacific Northwest.

“Oregon had a terrible fire situation this year. They had need to train 250 additional National Guard troops, but they didn’t have enough people to do the training,” he says. “The State of Oregon contacted the Illinois Fire Service Institute, and the program director called me.”

Builta, who is also the longtime chief of the volunteer fire department in Hillcrest, Ill., has been on the staff of the Illinois Fire Service Institute for 12 years. He and his colleagues there provide training for mostly volunteer fire crews around the state of Illinois in fighting wildland blazes and prescribed burns.

Funding comes from a Department of Natural Resources grant, which finances the training and supplies free gear to first responders who service populations of less than 10,000. “We provide them with the training and protective equipment to fight this type of fire safely,” he says, “and that makes huge difference.”

builta-1In Oregon, the trainers from the Land of Lincoln joined trainers from across the country to deliver the 40-hour curriculum over only four long days. The courses are conducted under the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s program, policies and standards for training.

Courses cover only the ground battles, which are waged with everything from shovels, rakes and hoes and “flappers” – mud flaps attached to long poles – to backpack water sprayers that “look like big Super Soakers.” Airborne wildfire fighting is not included.

Lessons in Oregon began with a class on fire behavior that focused on how weather, topography and fuel all can drive fire.

Remaining days were spent in the classroom during the morning, where the troops learned about preparation for firefighting, and in the field during the afternoon.

“There were two-and-a-half hours for skills stations; then the staff would put on a burn for the students,” Builta says. “The staff light the burn and suppress it; the class lead instructors talk to the students about fire behavior, what was going on, why we were doing what we were doing. After the fire was out, students would mop up and grid to make sure there were no hot spots left.”

builta-2A fortunate change in the weather during the training gave the upper hand to the crews already on the job, he adds. As a result, only half of the 250 National Guard members were dispatched after their four-day prep.

“This was the largest group of National Guard that I’d been around, and you just cannot say enough good things about them, their work ethic and their commitment to go out and do good things for the community,” Builta says.

He also is grateful for the cooperation of the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training and the Oregon Department of Forestry. They join similar agencies from Georgia, Montana and California who have received assistance from trained Illinois Fire Service Institute staff members.

California’s devastating wildfires this fall are the result of “two major problems,” Builta says.

“From what I have read, the spring was really wet in California. The grasses grow a lot, and give you a lot of fuels for fire. Then, they didn’t get a lot of rain, the grasses dried and made for lots of fuel on the ground,” he says.

Meanwhile, he adds, “the Santa Ana winds – when high pressure pushes air over the tops of the mountains – come down warm and dry with low humidity. If something catches fire, then a lot of dry winds coming down just ignite the fire.”

Steve Builta, right, chats with other wildland firefighting trainers in Oregon.

 

Although Builta is frequent trainer of wildland firefighters, teaching those courses across Illinois between five and 10 weekends each year, he rarely can accept the two-week standard deployments to battle the blazes. “With my job, it’s hard to do that,” he says.

However, fighting fires is an important part of his life at home – and one that involves the whole family.

Builta’s wife, Joelle; their son, Christopher; their daughter, Danielle Kaecker; and her husband, Justin, all are members of the Hillcrest Fire Department. Christopher recently returned from Montana, where he was dispatched to help fight the wildland fires there.

The story began 21 years ago when the Builtas bought their home in Hillcrest, located just north of Rochelle along Route 251.

builta-3Joelle, pregnant with Christopher, was on doctor-ordered bedrest. Steve was unpacking boxes. As a powerful thunderstorm rumbled through town, a violent lightning strike rattled the house.

“Moments later, we could smell smoke,” Builta says, “so we called the volunteer fire department, and out they came.”

No fire was found, but the assistant chief believed he had found something: a new recruit. After his first invitation that day, he made a few more trips to the Builta home until the new guy in town finally said “yes.”

“My wife and I had talked about trying to become involved in the community,” Builta says. “I just had no idea this would be it.”



CoE, NIU make good showing at MWERA annual conference

mwera-logoThirty-two NIU faculty, students, staff and College of Education alumni presented at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Mid-Western Educational Research Association (MWERA), held from Oct. 18 to Oct. 20 in Evanston.

MWERA is a regional educational research association modeled after the structure of the preeminent American Educational Research Association.

The MWERA mission is threefold:

  • to disseminate educational research conducted in the central states and provinces of North America;
  • to promote a collegial research culture in the region; and
  • to provide a forum for mentoring the research skills of graduate students and junior faculty members.

While MWERA featured presentations by affiliates of NIU’s Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, Department of Counseling, Adult, and Higher Education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction and Department of Psychology, faculty and graduate students from the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment were particularly involved in the conference.

Associate Dean David Walker and Associate Professor Cynthia Campbell, both of the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, are past presidents of the organization.

David Walker and Cynthia Campbell

David Walker and Cynthia Campbell

Many NIU faculty and students also regularly serve as session chairs and session dscussants during the meeting, and in other leadership roles within the organization such as webmaster, Association Council members and board members.

This year, several faculty also were recognized for their service to the organization in relation to recruitment of graduate students.

Current and past NIU affiliates who presented at the 2017 conference include Abdullah Albalawi, Farraj Alshehri, Youself Alshrari, Patricia Barton, Cynthia Campbell, Raye Chiang, Brad Cramer, Dustin Derby*, Anne Edwards, Khalifa Elgosbi, Joseph Ehrmann, Daniel Feller, Tawanda Gibson, Christopher Gonzales, Karen Higgs, Mary Hoyt and Naif Jabli.

Others were Ryan Kopatich, Melanie Koss, Nicholas Leonard, Rakez Mahmoud AL-ararah, Cornelius McKenna*, Jaclyn Murawska*, Elyzia Powers, Todd Reeves, Thomas Smith, Amy Stich, Tracey Stuckey-Mickell*, Victoria Therriault, Stephen Tonks, David Walker and Scott Wickman.

* Alumnus of the NIU College of Education



CoE remembers Joe Saban

Joseph M. Saban

Joseph M. Saban

Joseph M. Saban, who taught educational leadership courses in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, died Sept. 29 in Lakewood, Ill. He was 70.

Saban came to the NIU College of Education from Community High School District 155 in suburban McHenry County.

Beginning his career there in 1973 as a science teacher, he later became the district’s director of Business and Finance and eventually was named assistant superintendent for Finance and Staff Development.

His nine years as superintendent, from 1993 through his 2002 retirement, included the construction of Prairie Ridge High School.

The four-time NIU alum then taught at his alma mater from 2002 to 2013. His degrees included an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology.

“Joe was a gifted educator who eagerly shared his knowledge and professional expertise with graduate students in our college,” said Carolyn Pluim, chair of the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations. “Many in the Illinois educational community were touched by Joe’s kind and generous spirit.”

In 2007, while Saban continued to teach and advise working superintendents in pursuit of doctoral degrees and other educators who were seeking superintendent’s certificates, he and another retired superintendent shared the interim leadership of the North Boone School District.

His brief return to public schools felt comfortable: “I’ve never really left,” he said at the time. “I stay current with that stuff. It’s part of my duties.”

A memorial service was held Oct. 5 in Crystal Lake. He is survived by his wife, Bonnie; five children; and six grandchildren.



CoE gets in the spooky spirit

Winners of the College of Education’s annual pumpkin decorating contest were chosen in the categories of NIU, Halloween and Glam It Up.

  • NIU: Terry Borg (Educate Global)
  • Halloween: Pat Crumpacker (pumpkin with kittens inside)
  • Glam It Up: Portia Downey (pumpkin with glasses and pearls)

Here’s a look at the pumpkins in competition (with the three winners on top), as well as a photo of a familiar face in a Halloween mood.