Category: SEED

Getting their feet wet: NIU College of Education students test career waters in Houston

Ashley Grazutis realized in middle school that she wanted to become a teacher when she grew up.

So did Saul Amaya – and for the same reason.

Both now are students in the NIU College of Education, pursuing licensure in Middle-level Teaching and Learning.

“Middle school was when I learned how to become a person. I learned how to work hard, and I learned how to fight for what I want,” says Grazutis, a senior from Palos Park. “I want to assist and inspire students to become the most competent and engaged students they can be.”

“I want to teach middle school because that was a struggle for me,” adds Amaya, a junior from Carpentersville.

“Middle school is such a transition, and not just education-wise. It’s more of a personal and awkward time for students. It was for me,” he adds, “and I feel like knowing that, I can relate to the students. I can do different methods and really just connect with students in a different way.”

Ashley Grazutis

Ashley Grazutis

Grazutis and Amaya were among 22 students from the College of Education who traveled to Texas in January to spend a transformative week observing and working in the Houston Independent School District.

NIU’s Educate U.S. program provides select students with donor-funded, all-expenses-paid experiences to view, practice and live in an out-of-state school district.

This winter’s trip also included – for the first time – two students in the Athletic Training program of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

Beyond equipping NIU graduates with a great advantage in the job market, Educate U.S. reinforces several values and priorities of the student-centered College of Education. Those include diverse and innovative real-world learning opportunities through collaboration with schools, communities, agencies and businesses.

And Houston, which hires a significant number of new teachers every year, is an excellent partner.

More than 215,000 children are enrolled at Houston’s 284 campuses, home to innovative programs that include dual-language schools offering immersion in cultures and languages including Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and French.

Participating pre-service teachers live in the homes of HISD administrators, gaining a unique perspective of the business side of schools.

Jennifer Johnson, director of Teacher Preparation and Development in the NIU College of Education, calls the week “above and beyond” a typical clinical experience.

She’s accustomed to hearing Educate U.S. students say “once-in-a-lifetime” – and she agrees with their assessment.

Saul Amaya

Saul Amaya

“The reason we’ve reached out to partners from other parts of the country is to allow our candidates the opportunity to broaden their perspective in the areas of classroom environment, of professional development, of teaching methods, of instructional methods and management methods, and of culture and language,” Johnson says.

“They’ll be able to really enrich what they already know … and see other places and ways of doing things,” she adds. “They’re not just learning and hearing about other ways to do things, but (getting) to experience them.”

For Grazutis, that became true on Day One.

She was assigned to a seventh-grade class in Life Science – “I love science, just because science is all about asking why,” she says – but was surprised by an email she received from her cooperating teacher before the trip.

“I was looking at this, and I was like, ‘Am I really going to teach this on my first try at teaching?’ It was sexual reproduction – different types of birth, male vs. female reproduction, sexual vs. asexual,” Grazutis says. “I was just really proud that, after that first lesson, I was able to get through it in such a professional way with grace and poise.”

Amaya also appreciated the immersion into teaching math to sixth- and eighth-graders.

“By the end of the week, I was able to prepare myself for a full lesson. Prior to that, I had yet to teach a full lesson, and that was my first time. It was a great feeling,” he says. “Having all those students just look at you, and actually answer the questions you’re asking, and paying attention, all eyes on you – it’s a great experience. I know I passed on the knowledge that I have to them.”

* * *

educate-us-logoCal Moyer found confirmation in Houston.

A junior Special Education major from Elmhurst, Moyer hopes to teach Life Skills in high schools. His assignment in Houston offered preparation in just that and, he says, he’s stayed in touch in the hopes of returning for his student-teaching.

One of the students he taught there has autism – and is a member of the football team.

“He gets a jersey, and he goes to football practice every day. I got to go and coach football with him for a while,” Moyer says.

“It was amazing how all the football players completely embraced him as one of their own. We’re cheering for him when he was doing his drills, and just completely backing him up in everything he did,” he adds. “It’s just so amazing to see how they made him feel like he was one of the players rather than just someone tagging along like a little brother.”

Moyer understands why: Students with special needs bring joy to everyone around them.

“Their happiness just glows,” he says, “and they just project it so much that it’s impossible working with them not to feel their happiness and (to) go home feeling amazing. The amount of energy and excitement and happiness they bring every single day just makes you feel like there’s so much more out there than what you see every day.”

During his time in Houston, Moyer worked with students on employment skills such as shredding paper, sharpening pencils and mopping floors.

He also realized what else occupies a special education teacher’s day, including meetings on Individualized Education Programs and communication between teachers, students, administrators and parents.

educate-us-2Sarah Paver, a second-year graduate student pursuing licensure to teach physical education, spent her Houston adventure at Pin Oak Middle School.

Her days began at 6:30 a.m., when she and her home-stay teacher left the house to arrive at school by 7 a.m., and the long hours continued until 8 or 9 p.m. each evening after assisting extracurricular sports coaches and athletes.

“It wasn’t like a clinical class at NIU, where you go from 1 to 3 or however long the class period is. It was truly living the life of a teacher for one week,” says Paver, who grew up in Big Rock.

“I would be there during the lunch hour. I’d have time to prep assignments. After school, I would have to manage all the students in the locker room or in the hallways. It really opened my eyes to what teachers to, and how much work it is,” she adds.

“However, it was also very rewarding. By the end of the week, students were coming up to me and saying, ‘You taught my class yesterday.’ It was very rewarding to have the students remember you.”

Paver found in Houston a perfect place to implement her NIU preparation.

“The things I have been learning at NIU have been reinforced,” she says. “How to manage a classroom. Make sure you provide positive reinforcement. Keep students on task. Walk around to observe all students. Never turn your back. In Houston, I applied all of those skills.”

Like many, she remains in contact with her host family. “They still text me every week just to see how I’m doing,” she says. “That’s the kind of relationship you build down there.”

* * *

educate-us-1Zahidelys Tapia felt right at home in Houston, where she spent her week at Farias Early Childhood Center: Teaching preschool is in her DNA.

“My mom has been an early childhood educator for 20 years,” says Tapia, a junior Early Childhood Education major from Belvidere.

“After years of going with her, and when she finally allowed me to start story times, or just helping the kids out, you start growing a passion for it,” she adds. “And then seeing some of the differences you start making, and then seeing them happy … it’s amazing.”

In the Houston Independent School District, where the poverty rate is 76 percent, Tapia found children and teachers who buck the conventional wisdom.

“We hear that students who live in poverty are already 18 months behind if they’re 4 years old. If they’re a minority, they’re behind. You just have these kids that have so many statistics that are holding them back,” she says.

But “when you look at a school district like HISD, you see that they’re breaking the boundaries. ‘They haven’t even started yet and they’re already behind?’ That’s not how we should view them as teachers. We have to help them continue and grow. I love that. That’s something I want to do as a teacher.”

She left empowered.

“From the first day, my teacher said, ‘What can you do? What do you want to do?’ She right away allowed me to be a part of her classroom. She said, ‘Play with the kids. Talk with the kids. When they’re doing their center times, do everything,’ ” Tapia says.

“She showed me, and she sat me down and told me, what she was doing and why she was doing it,” she adds. “It was an amazing experience. I learned how to be a teacher.”

houstonBilly Shea, who plans to teach middle school math, used his time in Houston to calm his nerves and polish his delivery.

After three days of watching his cooperating teacher in action, Shea took over.

“I was able to teach the lesson that my teacher taught. I was able to see what he did, kind of change it to how I wanted to teach it, and then do it in the classroom,” he says. “I’d never taught a lesson prior going to Houston, and being able to do that for two straight days – the full day – was amazing.”

First-time jitters caused him to talk too quickly, he says. “I wanted everybody to like me. I wanted everybody to learn everything they can.”

His second round showed great improvement, he adds, and by the third time, his cooperating teacher praised his work. Lessons learned? “Relax. Truly trust yourself as a teacher. If you don’t necessarily reach Point B, it’s OK as long as the kids are learning.”

“My biggest takeaway from Houston is that I know I can teach,” he says. “I know I can touch lives, and I know I can create educated people.”

Unlike some of his classmates in the Middle-Level Teaching and Learning major, Shea’s motivation to teach took root outside the classroom.

The junior from Schaumburg spends his summers as a camp counselor for children in fifth- through seventh-grades.

“They just make my day go by so fast. I love being with them. I thought it would be the perfect job for me,” he says. “I like that they’re still learning about who they are as an individual – but then they’re also at that point where they want to move on to abstract thinking and thinking for themselves.”

* * *

NIU Athletic Training students

NIU Athletic Training students

Not everyone who visited Houston in January is necessarily bound for the classroom: Ariel Russell is an Athletic Training major.

But with “Educate” in the program name, and the Houston Independent School District as the destination, classrooms served as the learning ground.

Russell was assigned to a high school, where she observed an athletic trainer who spends two class periods each day rehabilitating student-athletes.

“During the rest of the day, I helped teach in her sports medicine classes, so it was a little bit different for me,” Russell says. “Instead of attending practices and games, I was actually in the classroom, helping teach coursework which I had previously learned here at NIU.”

She is grateful for the opportunity to see a different part of the country and observe how another state’s rules and regulations impact how her profession is practiced. She also enjoyed making connections with other athletic trainers while gaining exposure to working in a high school.

“Having a clinical experience in a high school setting is really important,” says Russell, who plans to work in a clinical or a school, and is considering pursuit of a master’s degree. “I was able to work one-on-one with a student athlete with ACL rehab.”

* * *

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson

Asking Jennifer Johnson what she observed in Houston yields many memories.

  • Children who become attached to their NIU students and don’t want them to leave.
  • Tears on the last day, not just from children but from college students and cooperating teachers.
  • Proof that NIU’s programs are sound.

“We are perceived, not just in Illinois but in other states, as a place where you want to recruit teachers from, a place that has graduates who are able to step into a classroom and make an impact – a positive impact – immediately, who come prepared to teach and learn,” Johnson says.

NIU College of Education students “are so, so authentically devoted to their profession, and passionate about what they want to do, that I know they’re going to be outstanding when they graduate,” she says.

“So many times during the (Educate U.S.) interview process, they would walk out of the room, and I would think, ‘Oh, I have goosebumps. That is who I would love to have teach my children.’ That’s the kind of bar I set,” Johnson says.

“They consider the students first – the children they’re going to be in the classrooms with,” she adds. “They were all very open to learning about new people, new places. They really had the idea that they would be going to learn how others learn, and that to me was huge. These students are doing this for a great reason.”



edTPA encore: COE students post great results for Fall 2016

graduation

Ninety-eight percent of NIU College of Education students who submitted materials for edTPA review in the Fall of 2016 passed the requirement for teacher licensure.

NIU College of Education students rocked the edTPA last semester – again.

One hundred percent of graduate students and 98 percent of undergraduates passed the mandatory assessment required to obtain teacher licensure in Illinois and several other states, continuing the college’s success story of posting numbers well ahead of state and national results.

It confirms the college’s mission “to prepare students to be leaders in their chosen professions” as well as the value placed on a student-centered education built on providing resources and support.

Behind this achievement are excellent students, nurturing guidance from faculty, an on-campus office committed to helping students through the process and collaboration with school districts.

“We have a lot of institutional pride in our student success and in our faculty and coordinator contributions,” says Jenny Parker, associate vice provost for the Office of Educator Licensure and Preparation at NIU. “Our programs have committed to integrating – early and often – the skills needed for teaching with both internal and external support.”

Judy Boisen, associate director for edTPA at NIU, is fully devoted to helping teacher-candidates succeed on three-part assessment.

Boisen, who previously taught high school science for 35 years, conducts edTPA workshops for students, university supervisors and NIU faculty. Supervisors and faculty also are provided edTPA data to determine what is going right, where improvement is needed and how to incorporate those realizations into their curricula.

She also offers a PowerPoint series for cooperating teachers in the K-12 schools that stresses the importance of the edTPA and their role in that process; her website provides tips for success to teacher-candidates.

edtpa-words

edTPA: “The skills and knowledge that all teachers need from Day 1 in the classroom”

Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development in the NIU College of Education, believes in the additional preparation NIU makes available to students.

“The edTPA is a high-stakes assessment that could impact your ability to get a teacher’s license. It mandates that all teachers will be highly qualified,” Johnson says. “Our College of Education students were so successful on the edTPA because our faculty took a vested interest in supporting them. The students practice these skills during multiple semesters, and we will continue to do that. We will keep working.”

College of Education teacher-education students hear “a constant message throughout their course of study” on the importance of edTPA preparation, adds Anne Gregory, chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Faculty, meanwhile, clearly identify aspects of coursework activities and assignments “that mirror or, with a few tweaks, could better mirror the edTPA.”

Preparing for the edTPA enables them to identify instructional needs, to study those in their NIU classrooms, to model them in student-teaching and then, Gregory says, “look to see if their students grow as well. It’s what good teachers do naturally as they gain some experience, and it’s a preview of what they will do consistently.”

Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education alumna Laura Tuma agrees.

“My professors took the bull by the horns and were able to break it down, step by step,” says Tuma, now a physical education teacher in suburban Yorkville. “They integrated chunks of the edTPA into all of our classes.”

She sees its value at work. During every-Wednesday staff meetings with her colleagues from all disciplines, collaborative discussions often focus on assessment.

“That’s what the edTPA was all about – assessments, and what you are going to do with those,” Tuma says. “That’s huge at my school. They want to see data. They want to know numbers. They want to see the success in our students, and that they’re learning.”



Shooting for the moon

open-doors-fiStudents in the NIU College of Education’s Open Doors project help second-graders at Lincoln Elementary School in Bellwood to identify their visions and map the roads to realizing them.

Nakeya wants to be a ballet dancer. Jamari wants to be a train conductor. Isabel wants to design fashions for famous people. Deandre wants to be an astronaut. Phillip wants to be an animator. Kenyatti wants to produce video games.

“I am extremely proud of my students during our visits to Bellwood. I think they represent NIU’s College of Education very well. They give 110 percent to the students they support while visiting Lincoln,” says Natalie Young, an instructor in the Early Childhood Studies program of the Department of Special and Early Education.

“My goal is for my students to not only teach the children, but to learn from the students as well,” Young adds, “which is what all good teachers do.”

Read all about it – and watch the video – courtesy of the NIU Newsroom.



NIU holds fall commencement

capThree NIU College of Education graduates stepped in the spotlight last weekend during the fall commencement ceremonies.

President Doug Baker told the audience at Sunday’s 2 p.m. ceremony about Luis Hernandez, a graduate from Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

During Saturday’s Graduate School ceremony, the president spoke about Kaneez Fatima and Sadia Qamar, who earned master’s degrees in Early Childhood Studies.

Here are President Baker’s comments.

Luis Hernandez

Luis Hernandez

Luis Hernandez

Luis Hernandez sees the world differently than most – and in more ways than one.

Talk to him and you’ll hear about the infinite complexities of everything around us. Of questions for which there are currently no answers. Of the lack of enough lifetimes to understand, or even solve, just a fraction of the puzzles of the universe.

Or the endless possibilities to unlock some of these solutions through simply improving mathematical literacy.

“It’s mindboggling,” Luis says, “how complicated reality is.”

He graduates today with a degree in kinesiology, a fascinating field that drew him in through its beautiful combination of sciences and disciplines.

To many, it’s all about exercise. To Luis, though, it’s math. It’s physics. It’s biology, chemistry and even philosophy.

Raised in Chicago Heights since fourth-grade, Luis has spent his time at NIU nurturing a deep passion for research.

Working with dollars provided by our undergraduate research programs, he’s completed two projects, he has another in progress – and he has appreciated the autonomy provided by faculty mentors.

One study explored lower-body strength. The other examined how video game-based exercise can improve balance and reduce falls in the elderly. Now he’s looking into possible benefits of working out more often than generally recommended.

Next month, Luis begins courses in the College of Education’s graduate program in Exercise Physiology and Fitness Leadership on his path toward a doctorate and work in research or higher education.

That decision keeps him among faculty who know and respect him – and on familiar ground, something important for Luis, who is visually impaired.

Born with no sight in his right eye and an underdeveloped optic nerve in his left eye, he is legally blind though he can still “see” to a limited degree. He’s never considered it a deficit, though, because he’s never experienced “normal” visual acuity.

Luis relies on other senses, including hearing and touch, to maneuver his surroundings and expand his mind. You also might spot him using the camera on his phone to zoom in on the chalkboard.

Congratulations, Luis! I’m excited to glimpse our vivid tomorrows through your eyes.

Sadia Qamar and Kaneez Fatima

Sadia Qamar and Kaneez Fatima

Kaneez Fatima
and Sadia Qamar

For Kaneez Fatima and Sadia Qamar, the walk across this stage today is paved with self-awareness, passion, commitment and courage.

As trainers of teachers in their native Pakistan – and as talented and devoted teachers themselves – Kaneez and Sadia realized that to make a greater impact on elementary education in their homeland, they needed to enhance their knowledge.

They dedicated themselves to securing that opportunity, and beat out thousands of applicants to secure two of only 27 scholarship offered by the United States Agency for International Development.

They applied themselves relentlessly. They completed six months of English training in half that time; they attended every day of their College of Education classes; they not only joined student organizations, they became leaders.

And they bravely rose above their country’s male-dominated culture to make independent decisions – decisions to not only travel but to live abroad … by themselves – for the purpose of advancing their own higher education. Such choices are not made lightly.

Now, as they earn master’s degrees in Early Childhood Education, they soon will return to Pakistan to reunite with loved ones and to resume their work.

Beyond the lessons they impart about American ways of learning – of teachers who empower students to facilitate their own discovery, who function as partners in that journey – they will quietly demonstrate the magnitude of what they have undertaken.

Kaneez knows from encounters with teachers in Pakistan that they want to deliver innovative and impactful instruction – but that they need professional support to do so. She will provide that, taking home with her influence and ideas not only from classmates in the United States but from many other countries, including China and Nigeria.

Sadia, who has found within herself a confidence, is eager to evangelize for the profound value of early childhood education – of the foundation it sets for future academic achievement. It’s not generally acknowledged in Pakistan, but she will change that.

Both women want teachers to know that a lack of resources cannot overpower passion for the job and solid educational strategies. That students with special needs are capable and deserving. That parents should encourage and accompany their children in learning, literally going hand-in-hand on educational adventures in and out of the classroom.

Their message to teachers back home – and to the children they teach – is forceful: Believe you can do something.

And, in their lives, they already have – not only for themselves but for generations to come. Congratulations!

James Fruchterman (center), pictured with (from left) Stacy Kelly, Gaylen Kapperman, Laurie Elish-Piper and Doug Baker, received an honorary doctorate during Saturday’s Graduate School commencement ceremony. Click the photo to read more about Fruchterman’s recognition.

James Fruchterman (center), pictured with (from left) the NIU College of Education’s Stacy Kelly, Gaylen Kapperman, Laurie Elish-Piper and NIU President Doug Baker, received an honorary doctorate during Saturday’s Graduate School commencement ceremony.
Click the photo to read more about Fruchterman’s CEDU-rooted recognition.



Stacy Kelly presents, collaborates in Scotland

Stacy Kelly visits Scotland’s Royal National Institute for the Blind.

Stacy Kelly visits Scotland’s
Royal National Institute for the Blind.

For Stacy Kelly, a trip to Scotland to share best practices on the training of pre-service professionals in the field of visual impairments proved an eye-opening experience.

During her well-received conference presentations at Scotland’s Royal National Institute for the Blind and her opportunities to observe her United Kingdom colleagues at work, Kelly glimpsed something she can’t see back home.

“In the United States, we have a totally different system to protect our privacy – it’s very much individual, little blocks of information, but you can’t break into the blocks. We have HIPPA, FERPA and all these layers of privacy protection,” says Kelly, an associate professor in the Department of Special and Early Education.

“So much research in our profession is single-subject research design because of the infrastructure of privacy protection,” she adds. “National data sets are hard to come by, and that’s a real struggle for us in the United States.”

Researchers aren’t alone in the dearth of information: Even parents of people with visual impairments lose access to the health records of their children when those children reach adulthood.

Laws is Scotland, however, are far more open – and the colleagues Kelly met there “were just fascinated by the fact that we’re so obsessed with privacy, because they’re not.”

The country’s national registry of blind and partially sighted persons, while not compulsory, provides a wealth of statistics for researchers and practitioners.

“We’re so jealous,” Kelly says. “With the registry, people are identifiable. You can do research on intervention. You can look and see the impact. They have a much more direct route to information than we do here. We told them, ‘That’s a huge strength. Don’t forget that.’ And they said, ‘Wow, we can’t imagine it not being that way.’ ”

Kelly visited Scotland during the last week of October.

Stacy Kelly

Stacy Kelly

Her conference presentation focused on how preservice professionals in the visual impairment field are trained in the United States as well as U.S. innovations in delivering services to people with visual impairments.

Observation of the practitioners of the Royal Blind School for Visually Impaired and Blind Children provided another contrast.

“U.S. teachers cover braille, adapted living skills, social skills, assistive technology – teachers of the visually impaired provide that support and knowledge to their students,” Kelly says.

“Their model is that the teacher just does the braille instruction. The rest falls under a ‘habilitation’ specialist, who does a lot of what our teachers of the visually impaired do in the schools,” she adds. “We have very different caseloads.”

Moving forward, Kelly expects to stay in touch and assist her new colleagues in assessing the outcomes of their work.

“This was the opportunity of a lifetime,” she says. “You can read about it; you can have good Skype conversations with people overseas; you can have an exchange of ideas; but the opportunity to actually be there and to learn from them face-to-face was just awesome.”



Silicon Valley social entrepreneur to receive honorary NIU doctorate

Jim Fruchterman

Jim Fruchterman

NIU will confer an honorary doctorate degree this fall to James Fruchterman, who has devoted his career to bringing “Silicon Valley’s technology innovations to all of humanity, not just the richest 5 percent.”

The CEO and founder of Benetech will receive his distinction during the Graduate School commencement, scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, in the NIU Convocation Center.

A former rocket engineer who also founded two successful for-profit, high-tech companies, Fruchterman grew up in Arlington Heights, Ill.

He is also a MacArthur Fellow, recipient of the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship and winner of the 2013 Migel Medal from the American Foundation for the Blind, the highest honor in the United States for service to the field of blindness.

“We are privileged to recognize Jim Fruchterman,” NIU President Doug Baker says. “He applies his skills in engineering and physics to discover, develop and deliver technology that helps people around the world to lead better and more-productive lives, and he has accomplished this in a selfless way.”

“Mr. Fruchterman is truly a model of innovation, social justice and interdisciplinary problem-solving,” adds Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the NIU College of Education, which houses the Visual Disabilities Program. “What a wonderful model for our NIU students, faculty, staff and alumni to see that such a gifted individual has used his immense talents for the greater good.”

Called Arkenstone from 1989 to 2000, Benetech “combines the power of the human mind with a deep passion for social improvement, creating new technology applications that address unmet human needs.”

  • Global Literacy. People with visual and other disabilities have access to technology-based literacy solutions. Benetech also promotes systemic change to make its tools unnecessary in the future.
  • Human Rights. Benetech software, services and training keep human rights defenders safe. Its software also has become critically important in larger efforts to pursue reform, seek justice and begin the process of reconciliation.
  • Environment. Ecologists and conservationists are given tools to plan and manage their global efforts to protect natural resources.

braille-3Gaylen Kapperman, who led NIU’s Visual Disabilities Program for decades and nominated Fruchterman, is a grateful beneficiary of Fruchterman’s legacy.

“Jim established Benetech, a groundbreaking, nonprofit company, to provide the software which people who are blind could use to convert printed material into a form that they could read without the help of sighted individuals,” says Kapperman, now a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Special and Early Education.

Kapperman subscribes to Benetech’s Bookshare, which serves 425,000 members with an online library of more than 490,000 accessible books and periodicals – available free of charge for all U.S. students with qualified disabilities including blindness, vision impairment or another disability that interferes with reading, such as dyslexia.

“As a blind person,” Kapperman says, “I use that source of information on nearly a daily basis.”

Stacy Kelly, associate professor in NIU’s Visual Disabilities Program, calls Fruchterman’s honor “richly deserved.”

“Jim is a person whose efforts have resulted in the provision of social good on a large scale,” Kelly says. “This is an opportunity for NIU embrace the remarkable work of one of ‘our own’ Illinois natives.”



Educate U.S. program gears up for another January in Houston

Nicole Morales

Nicole Morales

If Nicole Morales ever dreamed of a job other than teaching, she doesn’t remember it.

“The materials have always come really easily to me. I’ve always done well in school,” says Morales, a senior Early Childhood Education major from Rockford.

“Even when I was growing up, there were classmates of mine who came to me for help – and I always found that I was able to show them the material in a way that the teacher wasn’t able to do,” she adds. “I could shine a light in a way that wasn’t there before.”

So when the opportunity arose to get her toes wet through Educate U.S. in the Houston Independent School District last January, Morales happily took the plunge.

“When I read about Educate U.S., I knew that I would get to see what it’s like being in a first-, second- or third-grade setting and the opportunity to get a feel of a primary classroom before I had to start my clinical observation,” she says. “Getting that experience before I had to do it for school was really good.”

NIU College of Education candidates in teacher licensure and athletic training have submitted applications for the trip in January, when more than 20 will get to take their turns in Houston.

All are eager for the donor-funded, all-expenses-paid experience to view, practice and live in an out-of-state school district that hires a significant number of new teachers every year.

educate-usMore than 215,000 children are enrolled at Houston’s 284 campuses, which are home to innovative programs that include dual language schools offering immersion in cultures and languages including Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and French.

Participating pre-service teachers live in the homes of HISD administrators, gaining a unique perspective of the business side of schools.

Jeff L. McCanna, the school district’s human capital officer who visited NIU in October to recruit for the program, places a great value on NIU’s pre-service teachers.

“The opportunities students are given through the NIU College of Education really prepare them to go to large, urban school districts and to be change agents and difference makers,” he says. “Many students here at NIU are the first generation in their families to go to college – and are committed as teachers to give other kids those same opportunities.”

Although Educate U.S. is only one week – the 2017 edition takes place from Sunday, Jan. 8, through Saturday, Jan. 14 – McCanna believes that pre-service teachers who participate always grow considerably in their professional skills.

Nicole Morales and Jeff L. McCanna

Nicole Morales and Jeff L. McCanna

“Educate U.S. gives them an experience that’s really entrenched at a campus for a week in a co-teaching environment. They’re really learning theory, and they start taking that theory and putting the art into the science,” McCanna says.

“They’re differentiating their instruction when they’re working with the kids. They really get to know their kids. They’re designing lessons to meet the kids where they’re at and getting them to where they need to be,” he adds. “That week will wear you out. You’re mom, dad, coach, cheerleader and counselor.”

By Friday, he says, there are plenty of hugs, tears, goodbyes and unexpected takeaways.

“Many find a true passion for working with underserved populations. We’re an urban environment, and if they like Houston, they can get jobs here and develop the skill sets to be successful,” he says. “But they’re going to be able to go anywhere and be good with what they learn here.”

Morales, who stayed with McCanna’s family last January, would agree.

Once she put her nerves aside to teach language arts to third-graders, she picked up ideas for different instructional strategies and a “vast repertoire of multiple activities you can use to teach a skill because not every students is going to get it one way.”

“I learned not to be afraid,” Morales says. “My cooperating teacher had me watch the first day, but from the second day forward, she threw me right into the curriculum. I did a lot of the read-alouds in front of the kids. I definitely got more of a sense for what a third-grader is able to do in terms of reading and writing, and I’m feeling more capable.”

As she confidently prepares for a spring semester of student-teaching in her hometown Rockford Public Schools, she heartily endorses the Educate U.S. experience.

hisd-logo“It is a chance to maybe work with a group of students at an age level or setting that you might not get to do back home, and I still stay in touch with my cooperating teacher. If I ever have questions, I feel that she’s one of the people I can go to,” Morales says.

Working in the children in Houston was a “privilege,” she adds, telling of sweet farewell cards they presented her on her final day there.

“You feel like you really got to know the kids well in that week, and you want to know them more,” she says.

“It definitely makes you feel like you did well,” she adds. “If a student can recall an experience you shared with them, a new skill you helped them to understand or a read-aloud you gave, you really feel like you made a difference – and you know what you’re doing is working.”



Presidential Teaching Professor Toni Van Laarhoven imparts lessons from her life, heart

Toni Van Laarhoven

Toni Van Laarhoven

Toni Van Laarhoven became a teacher before she became a student.

Van Laarhoven and her twin sister, Traci, often accompanied their mother and their sister, Steffanie, to the parent-run school their sibling attended. Toni and Traci – only preschoolers then – often were asked to teach their sister’s classmates and to lead small-group activities.

Years later, Van Laarhoven would realize the roles were switched.

“My older sister, who has severe intellectual disabilities, is nonverbal and engages in some challenging behavior, is one of the coolest people you could ever meet – and is also one of my most influential teachers,” says NIU’s Presidential Teaching Professor for 2016.

“She has taught me that teaching-and-learning is a reciprocal process,” she adds, “and that it is critical to listen and learn from all people, regardless of their mode of communication.”

Her mother also inspired her work but in a different way.

Elaine Leslie Baker joined other parents in lobbying for educational opportunities for individuals with disabilities; their efforts resulted in the 1975 legislation known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act that guarantees a free, appropriate education for that population.

“From her, I learned the power of advocacy,” says Van Laarhoven, a professor in the College of Education’s Department of Special and Early Education, “and to treat all people with respect and dignity.”

van-laarhoven-toni-3During her two decades at NIU – the two-time alumna joined the College of Education as in instructor in 1995 and became an assistant professor in 2001 – she has perpetuated the mission of her big sister and their late mother.

Project MY VOICE, which Van Laarhoven and Traci created and successfully directed from 2007 to 2011, continues to empower high school students with intellectual disabilities to participate in their own Individualized Education Programs via technology.

Last year, Van Laarhoven harnessed the potential of Google Glass to teach vocational skills to teens with special needs.

Weaving those projects and their capacity for experiential learning into her curriculum assures her that each next generation of special education teachers will treat their students in exactly the way they deserve.

“I think students recognize my passion for the field and my commitment to making sure they become the best special educators they can be,” she says. “They also recognize that as a family member of an individual with a disability, I am truly invested in their success and want nothing more for them than to change lives and become strong advocates for all of the students they encounter.”

Jennifer Horst, a kindergarten and first-grade teacher at Westmore Elementary School in suburban Lombard, confirms her former professor’s aspiration to “shape us as the powerful and efficacious educators she envisioned.”

“As someone who cares so deeply about the population she was training us to teach, the academic rigor that she challenged us with was understood as a sort of ‘future advocacy’ for individuals with disabilities,” Horst says. “There was no way she would let anything go partially mastered in her classes.”



Kudos! First group of Dean’s Achievement Scholarship recipients named, honored

College of Education Dean Laurie Elish-Piper chats with Lauren Leifheit, Rachel Bicksler, Anna Mangini and Jamie Hoban.

College of Education Dean Laurie Elish-Piper chats with Lauren Leifheit, Rachel Bicksler, Anna Mangini and Jamie Hoban.

Lauren Leifheit never heard a peep from the students in her first classroom.

“I’ve been interested in teaching for as long as I can remember,” says Leifheit, a pre-elementary education major from Sycamore. “Even when I was a little kid, my parents would buy me little teaching kits, and I’d teach my stuffed animals.”

Jamie Hoban, a vision major from a tiny town near Manitowoc, Wis., developed a passion for special education during her six years as a volunteer at an Association for the Developmentally Disabled summer camp.

Visual impairments, however, is an inspiration from a relative.

“My cousin is a teacher of students with vision impairments. She works for a school district, going from school to school working with the kids with visual impairments. I shadowed her and I just loved it,” Hoban says. “She gets really close with her students because she doesn’t work with all the students in a classroom. It’s great getting on that personal level with kids and really getting to see their progress.”

The two NIU College of Education freshmen and seven of their first-year classmates, all of whom are pursuing licensure as teachers, are among the inaugural group of Dean’s Achievement Scholarship recipients.

Chosen on the basis of stellar academic performance in high school, each receives a $2,000 scholarship for the 2016-17 academic year with the possibility of renewal for the next year based on grade point average.

From left: Sevyn Schuemann, Jacinda Starr, Lauren Leifheit, Rachel Bicksler, Anna Mangini and Jamie Hoban. Not pictured: Paetyn Borhart, Lee Bell and Megan Hayes.

From left: Sevyn Schuemann, Jacinda Starr, Lauren Leifheit, Rachel Bicksler, Anna Mangini and Jamie Hoban. Not pictured: Paetyn Borhart, Lee Bell and Megan Hayes.

 

Joining Leifheit and Hoban are pre-elementary education majors Rachel Bicksler, Megan Hayes, Anna Mangini and Jacinda Starr; pre-early childhood studies majors Paetyn Borhart and Sevyn Schuemann; and physical education major Lee Bell.

Student Services was looking for ways to increase recruitment efforts for COE undergraduate licensure programs. We were thrilled to be able to offer an incentive for high-achieving high school seniors to select us as their school of choice,” says Margee Myles, director of the college’s Student Services office.

“Our first group of scholarship winners represents an academically elite group,” Myles adds, “who we hope will connect to the college and who be ambassadors for our amazing programs.”

Hoban’s path to NIU also comes courtesy of her cousin, an alumna of the Department of Special and Early Education’s renowned Visual Disabilities Program.

“She loved it here, so I toured and it just felt right. It just seemed like the place for me,” Hoban says. “There are no schools in Wisconsin that offer this program, and in Wisconsin, there’s a really big need for teachers of students with vision impairments. School districts are legally required to have someone there, and there’s an extreme shortage.”

Margee Myles

Margee Myles

Receiving a Dean’s Achievement Scholarship is an exciting honor, she says.

“When I went to the meet-and-greet, it was really nice to meet some of the major people in the College of Education and get on a more personal level with them. It’s kind of a good group to get into,” she says. “I also liked meeting some of the other students who received the scholarship. You can tell they care about their grades, so it’s nice to be around people like that.”

For Leifheit, the choice of NIU was simple. It’s close to Sycamore, obviously, so she continues to live at home and commute.

But the College of Education also boasts a “great” reputation, she says.

“Once I start taking more of the education classes, I want to learn about how to diversify my lesson plans in a fun and interesting way,” says Leifheit, who also has taught at a summer camp and spent her senior year at Sycamore High School as a TA.

“I want to be someone who is able to change how the classroom works and not have it just be routine – ‘sit down and learn.’ I’m just really hoping that I can inspire kids to be the best they can be,” she adds. “I’ve had a lot of teachers in my family – my aunt works at an elementary school; my great aunt was a teacher – so I think it was passed down. Even my mom said that if she could go back to school that she’d love to be a teacher.”



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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