Category: ETRA

Against All Odds

by Angela M. Johansson, M.A. ’05
Originally appeared in Northern Now

North Lawndale is one of the toughest neighborhoods on Chicago’s West Side. Its streets are plagued by poverty and gang violence. Each morning, workers in reflective orange vests are stationed at every corner to keep children safe as they walk to school.

Amid the drug deals and occasional gunfire, the streets of North Lawndale seem an unlikely path to a better life. But near the intersection of Sacramento Boulevard and Lexington Street, there’s an innovative new school that has become a beacon of enlightenment, learning, and hope: Altus Academy.

Open the door to Altus and dozens of wide-eyed, smiling students will line up to shake your hand. Walk in and you enter a world that seems a million miles from the harsh reality of its surroundings.

Welcome to Altus

The Sanchez brothers - Justin, Junior, and Andrew - with John Heybach.

The Sanchez brothers – Justin, Junior, and Andrew – with John Heybach.

In their neatly pressed navy blazers, orange neckties, and gray Altus sweater vests, the Sanchez brothers – Andrew, Justin, and Junior – look like they could be students at any prestigious academy in the country.

Seated side by side on a couch in the community room, the three discuss history, math, and Greek mythology. Junior says that Justin is a “math genius,” and Andrew describes Justin’s impressive progress in reading.

The brothers are part of a growing family at Altus, an independent not-for-profit school that enrolls forty-six students from the second through the eighth grades. Founded by a group of NIU alumni led by John Heybach, ’72, Ph.D. ’76, it’s the only school of its kind in the area.

The academy meets a growing need by providing college prep opportunities to children from low-income minority households. While a growing number of inner-city kids dream of packing their bags for college, only 14 percent of students in Chicago Public Schools go on to earn a college degree, according to the Chicago Consortium on School Research.

With the help of their alma mater, Heybach and his colleagues plan to change that.

Altus Academy opened its doors in 2011 in the basement of a Chicago convent with sixteen students, one teacher, and a boiler room that doubled as a cafeteria. The small facilities didn’t stop Altus founders from dreaming big as they set out to provide intensive college preparatory academics and character development through the deliberate learning and practice of human virtue.

Heybach and his colleagues knew they’d need help with this ambitious venture. So they turned to the school that had prepared them for success: NIU.

From the beginning, Altus teachers worked with faculty in the NIU College of Education to create their curriculum. They spent a week at the DeKalb campus, where they learned to incorporate problem-based learning and technology into their lesson plans.

A partnership made in heaven

15-Altus-10-22-GT-123

Nadia Rodriguez with her LEGO robot.

Altus eighth grader Nadia Rodriguez spins a tire on her LEGO robot while calculating how many degrees it will turn on its journey to the end of the table. She’s a star on the robotics team, Altubots, one of several student clubs created in collaboration with staff and students from NIU. Last fall, representatives from NIU STEM Outreach traveled to Altus to help Rodriguez and her teammates prepare their robots for competition.

NIU faculty, staff, students, and alumni have brought a variety of hands-on programs to North Lawndale, including a week-long percussion workshop through the College of Visual and Performing Arts, a digital storytelling class by the NIU Center for P-20 Engagement, and a plate tectonic research activity giving Altus students the chance to present their research at NIU.

This spring, students and faculty from the NIU psychology program will help Altus staff assess students for learning disabilities and create lesson plans to accommodate them.

“We’ve been there since the beginning,” says Laurie Elish-Piper, acting dean of the College of Education. “They are great partners who are always interested in working with us and willing to try new things.”

Making the grade

Altus fourth graders Isaiah Nickerson and Javier Saldivar

Altus fourth graders Isaiah Nickerson and Javier Saldivar.

Altus students study virtue with the same rigor they apply to their academics. “We want kids to develop strong character, serve others, and contribute to society,” says Heybach.

Each week, students create a goal for themselves. Rodriguez’s goal was to create a distraction-free environment by turning off the TV and Facebook while she studies. At the end of the week, students grade themselves on two questions: 1. How well did you do? 2. How hard did you try? Nadia gave herself a four out of five.

“We have high expectations,” says Heybach. “So we make sure the support is there. The kids like that.”

All three Sanchez brothers have come to appreciate that support. “To tell you the truth, we were troublemakers when we first came here,” says Andrew, the eldest. “We’ve done a lot of things we aren’t proud of.”

The three brothers agree that the school has turned them around. They talk about perseverance, fortitude, and respect. Justin says that he’s learned that “if I never give up, I will learn math.” He’s currently studying fractions.

“If you show respect, people will trust you,” Junior adds.

The academy has become a place where NIU students can complete internships, student teachers can teach, and faculty and students can conduct research to measure the impact of the school’s unique practices.

“Altus is becoming a model school for teacher educators,” says Marilyn Bellert, associate director of the Center for P-20 Engagement. “It puts NIU students in touch with the realities of teaching students in a developing community.”

One last hurdle

15-Altus-10-22-GT-053Academics are not the only obstacle on the path to college. Students become aware of the difficulty of financing a higher education at a very young age.

“When our second and third graders tell us they won’t be able to afford college, I tell them that’s the last thing we need to worry about,” Heybach says. “Let’s get you prepared academically, physically, and emotionally. I believe the money will come.”

He’s right. Some of that money will come from NIU donors Thomas Dee, ’85, and his wife, Mary Jane, ’85, who have created a scholarship endowment through the NIU Foundation.

“We want to support bright, motivated students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who are committed to learning,” they explain. “Sending these young people to Northern will help them, the university, and the community.”

Heybach’s eyes well up when he reports that ten eighth graders will graduate this year. Rodriguez and Andrew Sanchez are among them.

“We will be there every step of the way,” says Heybach. His wife, Sue, ’73, a placement counselor at Chicago’s Sacred Heart Schools, meets with each of the graduating students’ families to create a plan. The goal is to get all Altus graduates into a college prep high school.

Rodriguez has her sights set on Whitney Young, one of the top college prep high schools in the country. Her chances of acceptance are excellent.

Andrew plans to go to boarding school. He says Lake Forest Academy is at the top of his list because of the approachable faculty, something treasured at Altus.

“When I visited Lake Forest, the teachers were always close by … having coffee and talking to students. I like that,” he says. Both students plan to come back often as volunteers and mentors.

“Alumni like John and Sue Heybach and Thomas and Mary Jane Dee represent the backbone of leadership we have across the Chicago area in business, government, and education,” says NIU President Doug Baker. “We are inspired by their vision and leadership, as well as the opportunities for student career success they bring to NIU.”

15-Altus-10-22-GT-042Heybach says NIU is an integral part of the Altus family. He calls the partnership priceless.

“Even if I could afford it, I could never buy it,” he says.

Altus and NIU share a passion for creating a better future. “That’s really what we’re after at Altus – helping kids become adults with the curiosity and the drive to change their local community and the world,” Heybach says.

Altus development director Vanessa Avalos, ’06, agrees. “We want people to know they can believe in education again,” she says. “I really want people to know all the wonderful things we’re doing to help kids succeed and become successful students and kind, caring, responsible citizens.”

As Rodriguez finishes up her robot programming for the day, she pauses and shares some advice for future students: “Just walk into Altus and you’ll find a friend.”

Rodriguez is hoping to help the Altubots repeat last year’s success at the FIRST LEGO League championship in Chicago. After competing against much larger, more prestigious college prep schools, they exceeded everyone’s expectations when they took fourth place.

Fittingly, the robotics team also earned the “Against All Odds” Award, a distinction these kids will likely earn again and again as they overcome challenges in their lives, led by what they’ve learned from John Heybach and his partners at NIU.



College of Education AWARDS

award-ribbon-printable-award-ribbon-clipartfree-award-ribbon-clip-art-htun1iwsDo you know someone in the College of Education who is deserving of special recognition for their efforts over the past year? The College of Education Awards have been reinstated this year, and the information for the awards as well as the nomination packets are now available online.

There are eight award categories with specific criteria for each award. To make a nomination, the nominator should fill out the form as well as be prepared to download their own nominator’s letter as well as two to three supportive letters. The maximum number of support letters is three per nomination.

The award categories are:

  • Excellence in Teaching Award for Faculty/Clinical Faculty 2016
  • Excellence in Research & Artistry Award for Faculty 2016
  • Excellence in Service Award for Faculty 2016
  • Exceptional Contributions by Instructors 2016
  • Exceptional Contributions by Civil Service Staff 2016
  • Exceptional Contributions by Supportive Professional Staff 2016
  • Excellence in Outreach/Community Service Award 2016
  • Exceptional Contributions in Diversity/Social Justice Award 2016

Deadline for all nominations is March 18, 2016, at 4 p.m. Questions or comments, contact Pat Wielert at pwielert@niu.edu.



Holiday Book Drive!

HolidayBookListGive the gift of literacy to a child in need this holiday season.  Students, faculty and staff in the College of Education are teaming up for a holiday book drive to benefit Neighbor’s House reading and tutoring program, a non-profit organization that serves DeKalb County. Children’s books (preferably for grades K-8) that are new or like new condition are needed.  Please drop off your donations to Graham Hall 225 any time through Wednesday, Dec. 2.  This effort is being sponsored by NIU’s KDP International Honor Society in Education.  Please direct any questions to Beth Wilkins (ewilkins@niu.edu) or Christina Poe (z1765903@students.niu.edu).  Collectively, our college can make literacy come alive for children!  We hope you’ll be part of that effort!



College of Education offers two new Ph.D. programs

The NIU College of Education recently has been approved to begin offering two new Ph.D. programs. The first, the Ph.D. degree in Instructional Technology, is offered through the college’s Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA); the second, the Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision, is offered through the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education (CAHE).

diploma-309947_1280Both Ph.D. degrees replace existing Ed.D. degrees in their respective disciplines.

“The reason we decided to offer the Ph.D. in Instructional Technology is to further strengthen ETRA’s position as a leader in instructional technology, research and scholarship,” said Wei-Chen Hung, ETRA’s chair.

“Our Ed.D. degree was already heavily focused on research, and as the national trend in instructional technology is toward research, we felt the Ph.D. would be more beneficial to our students,” he said, adding that the addition of the Ph.D. will help improve the research, theoretical, and practical preparation of the graduates, especially those seeking future careers in academia, public education, government, and in the business and not-for-profit sectors

The decision to convert to a Ph.D. degree in counselor education and supervision was driven by the desire for the degree that better reflects the curriculum. The doctoral program was redesigned several years ago to integrate a stronger research component, which is more reflective of the Ph.D. degree, according to CAHE Chair Suzanne Degges-White. “A CACREP-accredited Ph.D. is now the gold standard in the field,” she said. “In fact, we look for the Ph.D. here in CAHE when we are looking to hire new faculty.”

Like ETRA’s new degree, the Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision was years in the making, involving the department’s entire faculty. “It took a lot of people – and a lot of time – to get to where we are now,” Degges-White said, “but our Ph.D. is an extremely rigorous degree that reflects much more than a traditional Ed.D. Our students, when they leave here, will be well prepared to become leaders in the field, effective supervisors and educators, and excellent researchers.”

For more information about the Ph.D. degree in Instructional Technology, please contact ETRA’s academic advisor Karen Wentworth-Roman at kwoodworth@niu.edu or 815-753-9321.

For more information about the Ph.D. degree in Counselor Education and Supervision, please contact Jane Rheineck at jrheineck@niu.edu or 815-753-8722

 

 



ETRA doctoral student launches Saudi academic journal

Adel QAdel Qahmash, a NIU doctoral candidate in instructional technology, has launched The Saudi Journal of Educational Technology, the first Saudi research journal in the field. The quarterly online journal is accredited by the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Culture and Information. It specializes in peer-reviewed studies and reviews articles that are related to technology integration and educational computing and research. Read more



ETRA collaborates to boost Saudi colleges’ online teaching skills

Wei Hung-DB-13_624x938

Wei-Chen Hung

The College of Education’s Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA) this summer provided an intensive, two-week workshop to faculty and staff of the Royal Commission of Jubail, Colleges and Institutes Sector (JCIS), a group of three institutions of higher education located in Jubail Industrial City in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia on the Arabian Gulf.

The program, “Online Teaching and Development,” was designed to boost confidence and hone skills necessary for JCIS to successfully integrate online technology into its teaching practices. The workshop was held at Jubail Industrial College and attracted some 30 participants. The participants were all faculty from different departments from the JCIS institutions who were chosen to be trained to become trainers.

The eLearning Project Committee, led by Fahad Al-Shahrani, a 2014 graduate of ETRA’s doctoral program in instructional technology, and now a JCIS faculty member and chairman of the organization’s E-learning Project, were leading the effort. After identifying skills gaps that prevented the JCIS faculty from teaching online most effectively, Al-Shahrani approached Wei-Chen Hung, chair of ETRA department, about creating a partnership to eliminate those gaps. The two organizations collaborated to identify the best training approach and best time to deliver the training.

Isti Sanga

Isti Sanga

The two-week training program was organized into three main theme topics, instructional strategies, technology integration, and blended course delivery, to provide faculty participants with needed skills and knowledge on eLearning pedagogies, technology, and teaching strategies. These skills and knowledge aimed to make online teaching and course development more efficient and effective and to make learning more productive. The goal was to help these 30 faculty participants assume critical roles such as eLearning coordinators and trainers in the JCIS’s online education initiative.

Dr. Isti Sanga, an ETRA instructor, worked with ETRA faculty to design the curriculum and course materials for the training and co-taught the face-to-face lessons with Hung in Saudi Arabia. Participants credit Sanga and Hung’s preparation and knowledge as the foundation for the workshop’s success.

“The training was delivered to an excellent, relatable standard,” said Mubeen Ahmed, one of the workshop participants and a faculty member at Jubail University College. “The elements that impressed me the most were their dynamic attitudes, zeal and ability to motivate us. I think I can speak on behalf of all my colleagues who attended the workshop that we were truly in great company for the entire two weeks.”

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The JCIS faculty trainees

Hung said the objective of the training was to provide JCIS faculty with a series of hands-on instructional activities on eLearning and a better understanding of online teaching methodology, instructional development, assessment, and media development.

In measuring the training’s effectiveness, professor David Walker, the project’s principal investigator, and his colleagues Todd Reeves and Tom Smith, both of ETRA, sought first to “assess changes in the participants’ belief in their ability to design and implement online courses” over the two-week time frame.

To do so they developed a survey, for participants to take at the beginning of the two-week training course, and then after each of the course’s seven sections (for a total of eight times). According to Reeves, the participants not only reported that they gained confidence in their abilities, they did so at an accelerating rate.

Tom Smith, Todd Reeves, David Walker

Tom Smith, Todd Reeves, David Walker

Walker added that while the data show that the participants’ confidence in their ability to create and deliver online course grew, the real test is yet to come. The researchers plan to return to Saudi Arabia next spring to assess how well the faculty have been able to put their new knowledge of online instruction in practice. With that information, the team will be able to modify the training program to reduce gaps in performance.

ETRA will continue to provide online consulting and support to the program for the next year. Hung hopes the training and ongoing consulting will result in the transfer of knowledge to faculty throughout the JCIS.

“We are aligning ourselves with the spirit of NIU’s mission to collaborate internationally with other institutions in the areas of research, artistry, and development,” Hung said. “My goal [for the department] is to expand our partnerships internationally and work with one institution at a time to help students, faculty and staff succeed with implementing the best practices for eLearning.”