Category: LEPF

Merritt speaker to encourage valuing ‘everyday actions’

Angela B. Hurley

Angela B. Hurley

Good is all around us, Angela B. Hurley believes.

Unfortunately, says the professor of education at Transylvania University, the negative often distracts our attention and drowns whatever impact something positive might have made.

For example, almost everyone turns their eyes toward parents screaming at a misbehaving child, but few notice the examples and lessons of excellent parenting that are far more common while largely invisible.

Recognition afforded to people who “stand above the crowd” creates a similar disconnect.

“We live in a time when you have to be exceptional to be noticed, and we’re always telling our young people, ‘Be the best you can. Be exceptional. Go out and excel,’ ” Hurley says.

“But if everyone did that, we’d have to change the meaning of the word ‘exceptional,’ ” she adds. “And, in doing so, we devalue the importance of the normal, everyday actions that we do in our lives, that give us joy as human beings and give us meaning. Much of what is really important is what we’re not even noticing.”

Hurley, the 2016 recipient of NIU’s James and Helen Merritt Distinguished Service Award for contributions to philosophy of education, will visit Thursday, Oct. 20.

She speaks at 4 p.m. on “The Importance of All We Do Not See” in the Holmes Student Center Sky Room. A reception begins at 3:30 p.m. All are welcome.

Named for the late James Merritt, philosopher of education and professor in the College of Education, and the late Helen Merritt, artist and professor of art history in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, the series welcomes scholars who have deeply influenced educational thought and practice.

Helen and James Merritt

Helen and James Merritt

“Both shared a vision of philosophy of education defined by a belief that this subject could really help teachers in a practical way,” says Kerry Burch, professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, “not only to teach their respective subjects better, but also to gain insight into the deeper purposes of education.”

“It was Jim’s hope,” adds colleague Leslie A. Sassone, “that we would all better understand that, in his words, ‘Every feature of teaching and learning has a relevance to philosophy of education.’ ”

While Hurley will focus on a question – How do we live good lives in a culture that values exceptionality? – she also plans a direct message to current and future educators.

Following political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s notion that bringing children into the world “opens a space for them,” Hurley will challenge the audience to ponder “what our culture seems to be focusing on at this point that a new one coming into this life would see emphasized.”

“How should we transform education for children and youth so they live their lives in a more joyful and meaningful way?” she asks. “I hope everyone who comes realizes that the ordinary things we do have great meaning, and that it matters how we interact with all of the people in our lives and on the earth.”

For more information, visit http://www.niu.edu/philosophy-of-education/merritt/index.shtml.



Reimagined courtyard opens

courtyard-3Once home to a frightening thicket of withering trees and patchy grass, the courtyard outside the ramp between Gabel and Graham halls now offers a picturesque place of serenity.

Funded entirely by the generosity of friends of the College of Education, the work wrapped up just in time for the autumnal equinox.

Visitors can study, eat picnic lunches, wander the stepping stones or simply enjoy the sunshine and tranquility, says Betsy Hull, assistant to the dean in the College of Education. Faculty with small classes also are welcome to teach there for a change of scenery.

“It’s open to everyone,” Hull says, “and we hope that everyone uses it.”

The “Confluence Courtyard” began as an idea in February of 2015, when the former chair of the Department of Special and Early Education proposed turning the space into a “sensory garden.”

Barbara Schwartz-Bechet and Hull needed an expert in horticulture to guide them, however, and realized that resource was available at nearby Kishwaukee College.

What happened next came as a pleasant surprise.

Matt Ewert, an instructor at Kish who took their call, asked to see the space for himself. During his visit to NIU, Ewert mentioned that he taught a course in landscape design: Why not turn the courtyard planning into a class project?

courtyard-1Schwartz-Bechet and Hull happily signed on, and the creativity began to flow from Malta. “Essentially, we were their clients,” Hull says. “His students really had some phenomenal plans.”

Ewert’s Kishwaukee students “talk more about non-residential design” in the spring.

“This was a nice commercial project where we had an actual client, and we tried to make it as real as possible,” Ewert says.

“It was good for the students to be able to ask questions of someone and get that real-world experience. They had a budget. They had things to work through. They learned client communication skills. This was the first project where they could see that mattered on a larger scale. It took them a bit out of their comfort zone.”

Around that same time, however, the College of Education saw several administrative departures – Schwartz-Bechet among them – and the dream was shelved.

Understandably disappointed, Ewert still saw the potential for learning in the courtyard. He called Hull in January, wanting to know if his new students could undertake the project again, this time as no more than an assignment for his course. The courtyard’s confined space provided interesting challenges and opportunities, he explained.

The “before” picture

The “before” picture

New Dean Laurie Elish-Piper wanted more, however.

Elish-Piper liked the concept of garden transformation and was ready to turn that into reality, says Hull, who assembled a working group that included Greg Conderman, Dina Fowler, Dianne Fraedrich, Toni Tollerud and Pat Wielert.

“We told Matt, ‘Here’s the budget we have. If you can wow us again, we’ll put something into motion,’ ” she says. “His students gave us a very professional presentation. They did a nice job.”

Not wanting to choose one plan over another, the working group identified favorable elements from all of the student-designed landscapes. “We told Matt, ‘OK, now make us a plan that incorporates all of those,’ ” Hull says.

Ewert, who owns Plano-based Escapes Landscape Design Inc., did just that. NIU alum Ben Entas, owner of DeKalb-based Blue Hills Inc., was hired for the installation.

“Blue Hills did it just two days,” Ewert says. “It looks amazing. It’s a whirlwind of a difference.”

courtyard-flowersMoving forward, Ewert and his future horticulture and landscape design students will help the College of Education maintain the courtyard landscaping; they will come each fall to assist with clean-up and appropriate seasonal preparation.

Low-maintenance perennial plants were chosen to ease the upkeep, Hull says.

“They’ll get some pruning experience,” Ewert says. “They’ll also get to see how a landscape can grow up over different seasons, and the rate at which different plants mature.”

Courtyard hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. An Emergency Assistance Call Box is available in the courtyard if necessary to reach the NIU Police.

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Donor Tea Reception

Over 150 donors, students, faculty and staff gathered last Sunday afternoon at the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center for our annual Donor Tea event.  The event is held to thank our donors and friends for their support of the College of Education over the years.  Donors have the opportunity to meet their scholarship recipients and mingle with campus colleagues, faculty and staff while enjoying light refreshments and tea.  During a short program, Dean Elish-Piper welcomed everyone to the event and introduced a thank you video which featured several of our scholarship recipients sharing the impact scholarships and other opportunities have had on their lives.  John Sentovich, Chief Advancement Officer at the NIU Foundation, addressed the group and discussed the importance of planned giving and how much donor gifts can impact students, as evident from the recipients in the audience.  He encouraged all students to pay it forward in the future when they are in the position to give back and assist others.  Students David Carson (graduate student LEPF) and Jael Monteagudo (undergraduate student LEED) shared their personal stories of the impact that scholarships have had on their lives.  Carson explained what a positive mental boost it was to him to know that others believed in him.  Monteagudo shared how driven she was to help students succeed and how the scholarships were helping her lessen her financial burden.



Pluim named acting chair of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations

Carolyn Pluim

Carolyn Pluim (formerly Vander Schee)

Carolyn Pluim has been named acting chair of the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF) in the College of Education effective July 1, 2016.

Pluim brings years of expertise and experience to the position. Her research interests are focused around the intersections of sociology of education, curriculum studies and educational policy, specifically as these relate to school health policies, practices and pedagogies. She explores the ways in which contemporary school health policies are negotiated and experienced by students and school personnel. A central theme running throughout her research is the relationship between discourse and social dynamics as this bears on sociological understandings of health, illness and the body and influences the responsibilities and obligations of public schools.

Pluim joined the NIU faculty in 2007. She is currently the Assistant Chair and an Associate Professor in LEPF. She currently serves as a member of Faculty Senate, University Council and is Chair of the General Education Committee.

“LEPF is a great department that consists of incredibly talented faculty and staff who are committed to students and their learning,” Pluim said. “I am happy to represent the department in this role.”

She is the co-author of the book “Schools and Public Health: Past, Present, Future” and has published more than 15 peer-reviewed manuscripts and book chapters. She serves on the editorial board of Policy Futures in Education and presents regularly at regional, national and international conferences in the area of health education and policy.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in Nursing Science from the University of Western Ontario, London, Canada; a master’s degree in Environmental Policy from Michigan Technological University Houghton, Michigan; and a doctorate in Educational Policy Studies, Social Foundations of Education from Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia.



Study education, culture in Japan

JapanProfessors Stephen Tonks (College of Education), Helen Nagata (College of Visual and Performing Arts), and John Bentley (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences) will direct a Japanese culture, history, art and education study abroad program from May 16-29, 2016.

The program, which will take place in Western Japan using Yamaguchi City as a base, is open to NIU students of any major who are interested in Japanese language, culture, history, art and/or education. Through guided tours and lectures, students will visit numerous cities and sites including schools, universities, ancient temples, museums, Hagi (an old castle town) and Yuda Natural Hot Springs.

Interested students should visit the NIU Study Abroad Office (SAO) website and search for “Japan” to apply online. The deadline for applications is Feb. 29, 2016. The application process requires a $200 fee/deposit. The NIU program cost of the trip is $3,580. For more details, contact the SAO office at (815) 753-0700 or niuabroad@niu.edu.



College of Education online graduate program ranked No. 5

best-online-programsFor the fourth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report has ranked the NIU College of Education’s online graduate program among the country’s best.

The COE program was ranked No. 5 out of a field of 188 competing programs offered by institutions across the country, including 10 in Illinois.

Only one of those, the University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign, at No. 7, ranked among the top 50. Mid-America Conference schools listed include Ball State University at No. 11 and Central Michigan University at No. 17.

“For U.S. News to have ranked the College of Education’s online graduate programs in the top five every year for the last four is a significant achievement,” said Laurie Elish-Piper, acting chair of the NIU College of Education. “It’s gratifying to have our online program recognized for its excellence. It affirms the high quality of our faculty, staff and curriculum, and highlights the career success our students go on to have.”



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!