Category: SEED

Educate U.S. program to offer unique glimpse of rural teaching inside North Dakota reservation

mandareeNorth Dakota’s Mandaree School District is a three-hour drive from the nearest airport in Bismarck.

The closest hotel is at least 20 miles away, if not 30. Shopping for groceries – beyond those for sale at the tiny convenience store in town, that is – requires a a two-hour roundtrip.

Life outside the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation is so far from, well, almost anything, that most teachers in the Mandaree schools live in the duplex apartments right across the street.

“Once you’re there, you’re pretty much there,” says Dianne Zalesky, an instructor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. “It is definitely a community in that everyone lives in the same neighborhood.”

And that is exactly where a small group of NIU College of Education Educate U.S. travelers will find themselves the week of May 14.

“Our past Educate U.S. experiences have been in urban settings, significantly larger than their traditional field placements,” says Jenny Johnson, director of teacher preparation for the college. “Our leadership team really wanted to give our teacher-licensure candidates is exposure to, and experience in, a truly rural setting. The Mandaree experience expands the range of opportunities for our candidates to take engaged learning to the next level.”

Caleb Purcell, Haleigh Ellet, Andrew Finch and Delaney Nauman

North Dakota-bound: Caleb Purcell, Haleigh Ellet, Andrew Finch and Delaney Nauman

 

Ninety-eight percent of Mandaree’s fewer than 200 students come from Native American tribes. Some of the two dozen teachers grew up in the Fort Berthold reservation or nearby; others grew up in other reservations.

One building serves the entire K-12 population, which is overseen by a superintendent, an elementary school principal and a high school principal. The district itself falls under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Indian Education of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Zalesky made the initial contact with the Mandaree School District when she visited in the summer of 2017 as a certified consultant for WIDA (World-class Instructional Design and Assessment).

Dianne Zalesky

Dianne Zalesky

The WIDA consortium advances academic language development and academic achievement for children and youth who are culturally and linguistically diverse. Zalesky presented professional development on working with diverse learners and the English Language Development Standards.

While Zalesky could not personally observe student-teacher interaction during the summer, the time she spent living among and working with teachers spoke volumes.

“I was having a conversation with Superintendent Ann Longie, just talking about what a great experience I had meeting the teachers there,” Zalesky says, “and I told her about some of the opportunities that NIU College of Education students have, one being Educate U.S.”

Both believed that five days in Mandaree would provide a unique perspective to future teachers, one beyond the already diverse array of clinical experience the college offers. Dean Laurie Elish-Piper, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs David Walker and Johnson agreed.

“What I would like to think is that they will see some different methods, simply because it’s a different population – or maybe not. Maybe it’s not that different,” says Zalesky, who will return to Mandaree to supervise the Educate U.S. students. “I would hope they’ll see the cultural and community aspects that influence instruction. I would hope they would see that there aren’t too many fluent speakers of indigenous languages.”

educate-us-logo-2She knows they observe “a strong sense of commitment” to students from teachers and, most of all, flexibility.

Much of that flexibility comes in response to the hiring and retention of teachers in a region of the country with brutal winters, she adds.

“I met teachers who the previous year taught fourth- or fifth-grade, and this year they’re teaching kindergarten or first. Last year, they were teaching social studies and science, and this year English or math,” Zalesky says. “They just say, ‘This is what I’m teaching. I might have four or five preps at multiple grade levels and multiple content areas from one year to the next.”

Administrators are part of that equation as well.

“If they need a bus driver, the superintendent will drive the bus. A building principal will drive the bus,” she says. “People just pitch in to do what they need to do, without question, without complaint and without a second thought.”

NIU’s select students will taste a bit of that flexibility, Johnson says.

“There is nothing like this in our service region, so participating in this experience is an added value. It’s a rich opportunity to see teaching and learning through a completely different lens,” she says. “The more they know and experience, the more highly qualified they will be upon graduation, and the more tools they will have to plan and design instruction for the students they’ll serve.”

Mandaree classrooms will bring to life what NIU College of Education students learn in their courses about diverse instruction, demonstrating how those theories and methods are implemented in different spaces to support student growth.

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson

Licensure candidates also will learn about professional development in rural schools, Johnson adds, as well as “the culture of teachers and students living in the same small space during the education cycle.”

As with the semiannual trips to the Houston Independent School District, the NIU College of Education pays for all travel expenses. Housing accommodations are provided by the partner districts, allowing Educate U.S. participants the opportunity to experience community, culture and authentic home-school connections.

Educate U.S. travelers are eligible for the university’s Engage PLUS transcript notation.



Community Learning Series sheds light on autism, transition

Sarah Johnston-Rodriguez

Sarah Johnston-Rodriguez

Parents who attended the College of Education’s Spring 2018 Community Learning Series left with a loud-and-clear message.

They must advocate strongly and continuously for their children with autism, especially when those children are in high school or nearing the age of 22 as they move into adulthood.

Future teachers of Special Education heard the same call to action during the April 10 event.

“It behooves the educator to take it upon themselves to be a lifelong learner in the areas related to transition,” said Christine Putlak, assistant director of the A.E.R.O. Special Education Cooperative. “Transition is, without a doubt, the most complicated part of the field.”

Daunting as it might seem, however, the process is not impossible.

And, as moderator Sarah Johnston-Rodriguez told the crowd of nearly 200, “Tonight, we want to focus on practices that work.”

Johnston-Rodriguez, a professor in the NIU Department of Special and Early Education, began with statistics on young adults on the autism spectrum.

Nineteen percent of young adults with ASD between the ages of 20 and 25 have lived independently from their parents without supervision after graduation. Only 58 percent had ever worked during their early 20s.

Toni Van Laarhoven, Benji Rubin and Christine Putlak

Toni Van Laarhoven, Benji Rubin and Christine Putlak

Meanwhile, while 97 percent received transition service during high school, many are left without such supports and services afterward. Thirty-seven percent “disconnected,” neither continuing their education nor working outside the home; 28 percent were unemployed, not attending postsecondary school or training and without support or services.

Benji Rubin, an attorney with Rubin Law Offices whose practice is exclusively limited to special needs legal and future planning, told parents that they need to begin the work toward the age 22 cut-off as soon as possible. Age 21 is too late, he said.

High on the must-do list is the PUNS (Prioritization for Urgency of Need for Services), the statewide waiting list. Those without funding or services could find themselves simply “sitting at home” while they wait beyond their 22nd birthdays.

“It’s important that you push,” he said. “It’s important that you not accept them not receiving services at age 22.”

Siblings of young adults with ASD also must prepare, Rubin said.

“The sibling perspective is crucial. They’re the ones who are going to be carrying that torch when mom and dad no longer can,” he said. “Include the siblings as early as possible.”

Khushbu Dalvi, Kori Jung and Traci Van Laarhoven-Myers

Khushbu Dalvi, Kori Jung and Traci Van Laarhoven-Myers

NIU Presidential Teaching Professor Toni Van Laarhoven and her twin sister, Traci Van Laarhoven-Myers, vocational coordinator at Waubonsie Valley High School, spoke of the power of self-determination and self-advocacy.

Their Project My Voice enables students with intellectual disabilities to participate fully in their transition planning through expressing their preferences in such areas as education, employment, living arrangements, health, safety, community and more.

“Ask individuals what they want,” Van Laarhoven said. “It is important that they become empowered and self-advocate for their futures.”

“Authentic work experiences are important for individuals with disabilities to have prior to exiting the school system,” Van Laarhoven-Myers said. “Not only is it important to build on the students’ strengths, interests and preferences, it is also critical to expand and capitalize on natural supports within the environment while putting in place strategies that help students cope with changing circumstances in the work setting.”

Panelists also told the audience about Indicator 13 – it calls for annual updates of postsecondary goals of young adults ages 16 and older who have Individualized Education Plans – and its demand for evidence that the students are invited to their IEP meetings.

Toni Van Laarhoven

Toni Van Laarhoven

Kori Jung, teacher and case manager in the Arlington Heights District 214 Transition Program, advised future teachers in the audience to truly know their students as well as their families and to advocate for them.

“If we can focus on the strengths-based model, our students are going to be successful,” Jung said. “Everyone has the right to work, and everyone can work.”

Khushbu Dalvi, program coordinator for the Parents Alliance Employment Project, explained her role in Project Search, an internship-based program in local hospitals.

The initiative also helps students with their interview skills – “Even if you know how to do the job, you still have to get a foot in the door,” Dalvi said – as well as leadership development. Students who’ve already become integrated in the hospitals can then teach their peers about how to succeed at the internships.

Questions from the audience touched on such issues as customized jobs, how to find employers, equal wages, the most important government benefits, physical education and more.



Community Learning Series will explore ‘transitions’ to adulthood for students on autism spectrum

dotsDuring the first 21 years of their lives, individuals with autism are offered critical support services through their local public schools.

By law, those services must include “transition” planning that begins when the students turn 14½, providing nearly seven years of preparation for the next stage of their lives.

Yet when that assistance ends, many of those young adults and their parents are left with the same question.

Now what?

“It’s a very important topic right now because there have been some changes in the legislation,” says Sarah Johnston-Rodriguez, associate professor of Special Education. “One change goes back to 2004: the IDEA law on special education, which changed the language to really focus on transition and on meaningful outcomes in the three areas schools are accountable for: community living; careers and employment; and postsecondary education.”

Modifications to the Higher Education Act, meanwhile, require that access to postsecondary education is available to students with intellectual disabilities.

And, in 2017, Illinois become an “employment-first” state to promote “community-based, integrated employment as the first option for employment-related services for individuals with disabilities, physical, intellectual or behavioral.”

Sarah Johnston-Rodriguez

Sarah Johnston-Rodriguez

The NIU College of Education’s upcoming Community Learning Series – “Transitioning to the Adult World: Connecting the Dots for Young Adults with Autism” – will help parents, students, teachers, employers and future educators make sense of it all.

Scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 10, the event takes place at the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center, 231 N. Annie Glidden Road. A reception begins at 5:30 p.m.

Free and open to the public, the event will feature six forward-thinking panelists who will share their innovative and exemplary approaches, supports and successes that have empowered their students to achieve productive lives.

  • Khushbu Davi, program coordinator, Parents Alliance Employment Project
  • Kori Jung, teacher/case manager, District 214 Transition Program, Arlington Heights
  • Christine Putlak, assistant director, A.E.R.O. Special Education Cooperative
  • Benji Rubin, attorney, Special Needs Legal and Future Planning, Rubin Law Offices
  • Toni Van Laarhoven, professor, NIU Department of Special and Early Education
  • Traci Van Laarhoven, vocational coordinator, Waubonsie Valley High School

“There are so many resources that teachers and parents need to plan ahead,” Toni Van Laarhoven says, “so we’re looking at what’s out there: What are some of the benefits available? What are some of the legal things people need to think about, such as guardianship? How do we prepare individuals if they choose to go the college route? These are things people really have to start thinking about.”

“We’re really focusing on services that are innovative and community-based,” adds Johnston-Rodriguez, who considers transition a matter of civil rights and social justice.

“Some states have done away with all of their ‘sheltered workshops,’ and the emphasis now for schools is to prepare these students for some kind of education, career or employment in the community.”

Toni Van Laarhoven

Toni Van Laarhoven

Van Laarhoven, a Presidential Teaching Professor at NIU, and her identical twin sister will talk about their Project MY VOICE – a person-centered planning tool that equips high school students with autism, and/or intellectual disabilities, to participate and have a voice in their own Individualized Education Programs via multimedia.

Johnston-Rodriguez, meanwhile, is also piloting a program that challenges students with disabilities to create their own PowerPoint presentations based on career exploration and creating a plan for where they want to go with their lives and how they plan to get there.

Lisle-based Parents Alliance Employment Project is partnering with Cadence Health in Project SEARCH, to offer internships at Central DuPage Hospital to young adults with developmental disabilities.

Many corporations “have gotten on board with employing people with special needs in meaningful kinds of jobs,” Johnston-Rodriguez says. “There’s also been a lot happening at the federal level with research and programs on customized employment. We’re seeing all of this come to fruition.”

Both professors say the evening will enlighten everyone, from those adolescents, parents, families, teachers, service providers and employers already engaged in transition to future teachers of individuals with special needs.

“Preparing for adulthood is extremely important, and has its challenges for people with autism as it does for any young adult, but it really does take a lot of planning, support and resources,” Johnston-Rodriguez says.

dots-2“As for any adolescent, these years are very formative. But for students with disabilities, they are even more so, because this is their last chance to get really intensive academic preparation and independent living skills and really focus on career and employment skills,” she adds. “In school, everyone gets a free education, but when you get into the adult world after 21, that all changes.”

Van Laarhoven especially wants teachers and future teachers to attend the Community Learning Series.

“Even though teachers of Special Education are aware of transition and what goes into it, that’s an area where they need much more support. There’s so much to think about, and there are so many moving parts,” she says. “I would like them to be able to think outside the box.”

For more information, call (815) 753-1619 or email seed@niu.edu.



Early Childhood majors visit Riverwoods Montessori School

Stephanie DeSpain

Stephanie DeSpain

Thirty-nine Early Childhood Education students from NIU recently enjoyed inside looks at a Montessori school.

Donations to the NIU College of Education from alumni Anthony L. Kambich (B.S. ’59, Physical Education) and Carolyn A. Kambich (B.S. ’60, Elementary Education), founders of North Shore Montessori Schools in 1966, financed the Feb. 13 and Feb. 27 trips.

“Students in my class last year were asking more about Montessori,” says Stephanie DeSpain, an assistant professor in the Department of Special and Early Education.

“When I talked to our chair, Greg Conderman, he said, ‘Well, we happen to have this funding to start to infuse some of the Montessori style and approach to teaching and learning in our classes to just expose our students to this other world of teaching young children,’ ” she adds. “This semester was kind of our first step in doing that.”

NIU students watched demonstrations by the school’s teachers and were able to ask questions of the faculty.

Montessori education, according to the North Shore website, “is based on Dr. Maria Montessori’s scientific observations of the young child … young children learn with great ease by simply ‘absorbing,’ like a sponge, everything to which they are exposed, rather than learning through logical analysis.”

Riverwoods Montessori School – one of three under the North Shore umbrella – provides a toddler program for 2-year-olds, a preschool classroom for ages 3 to 5 and a school-age classroom for children kindergarten through sixth-grade.

Arranged “in a homelike fashion for students to feel like they’re home,” DeSpain says, it features a living room of sorts in the middle of the school. Other familiar spaces include a regular kitchen, a dining room and a laundry room.

“It really does feel kind of like a home,” she says.

On the bus to Montessori

On the bus to Montessori

Called a “prepared environment,” the classroom is, according to the website, “designed to support these (developmental) periods of the children and allow them to easily learn at their own individual rhythm.”

A few Huskies were able to watch children in action as they stacked blocks and counted colored rods – these are called “manipulative materials” – to learn concepts such as quantifying and fractions.

Manipulatives, according to the website, are located “low on small shelves which are easily accessible to every child. This gives the children freedom, within the limits of safety and respect, to choose activities for themselves that they will succeed in doing. Many little successes build self-confidence and develop knowledge.”

“They have a three-stage lesson: I demonstrate, I have you show me and then I have you do it. That’s kind of how all their teaching is,” DeSpain says.

“When it’s introduced in our textbooks, it’s as a very child-directed approach to teaching, a natural environment where the teacher just serves as a guide and the children watch that guidance,” she adds “We’ve not necessarily had that as a component of our program before. It’s a little bit outside of what our students are familiar with. That prompts a really good discussion, like, ‘Wow, how do I do these things when they’re child-directed?’ ”

Lauren Van Havermaet, a junior Early Childhood Education major from Inverness, enjoyed the trip.

“I thought it was very insightful because I hadn’t known a lot about Montessori,” Van Havermaet says. “They did a good job of showing us what the teachers do and what the kids do, and they showed us a different way of teaching.”

binomial-cubeVan Havermaet was fascinated to see the Montessori teachers “never telling the kids that they were wrong” but focusing on “more of what they’re doing right.”

Children were interested in learning, she says, partly because they were able to choose their activities. One 4-year-old girl even was learning to sew using a shoelace.

She also noticed parallels between the Montessori method and the education of her boyfriend, who was homeschooled by his mother.

“The children were so well-behaved,” adds Van Havermaet, who appreciated that the children were generous in their sharing of toys and manipulative materials. “The whole classroom is very calm.”

NIU students also were curious about how Montessori schools serve children from diverse backgrounds, DeSpain says.

“When we talk about working with young children with special needs, we talk about supports and modifications,” she says. “In a Montessori school, children all work very independently. They grab the materials they want. They do the work they want. For a child with a disability, that might be more difficult.”

Those students who visited were grateful and excited by the opportunity to do so.

Early Childhood is a unique field, DeSpain says, that offers careers in public preschools, private preschools, church-based preschools, Head Start programs and, of course, Montessori.

“Our candidates get a chance to go into a lot of Early Childhood settings, but Montessori is not one they typically get. With the donor funding, it really allowed us to go in and get that exposure to this other type of programming,” she says.

montessori-logoSome already have expressed a desire to undertake their student-teaching in a Montessori school, she adds.

“If a few students in your cohort walk away feeling inspired, empowered and passionate about the job they want to do, then these trips are worth it,” DeSpain says.

“At the end of the day, we want our students to go and get jobs. Everyone needs to feel like they’re going to work somewhere that fits them, and this gives them that exposure and helps them to understand what they need to do to become a credentialed Montessori teacher, which requires some more training,” she adds. “Or, if they found ideas to implement in their future teaching, but realized that Montessori was not the right fit for them, then that’s empowering as well.”

DeSpain hopes to make the field trips to Riverwoods a regular event, and also is planning to use some of the donor dollars to purchase some Montessori materials to place in a designated NIU College of Education classroom or the Learning Center.

That is likely to please Van Havermaet, who is open to borrowing Montessori concepts for her classroom.

And no matter where she finds work, she is eager to start.

“You get to teach kids the first things they learn, and that’s something they’re always going to take with them. They’re always going to need their social skills. They’re going to need their numbers, colors and words,” she says. “That just kind of draws me there, just to see the kids grow.”



SEED faculty chosen to present at engaged learning conference

Laura Hedin

Laura Hedin

Laura Hedin leaves no doubt of her feelings on engaged learning.

“It’s the best way for students to learn. That’s the bottom line,” says Hedin, who teaches Special Education in the Department of Special and Early Education (SEED). “If it’s just listening – and not doing – then students are not getting everything they could be getting from my expertise. Practicing their skills just bumps everything up in Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning.”

The associate professor is one of two College of Education faculty members chosen to present at NIU’s first Conference on Engaged Learning, Teaching and Scholarship.

Natalie Young, an instructor of Early Childhood Education in SEED, is the college’s other “exemplar” at the Tuesday, March 6, event in the Holmes Student Center.

Several faculty and staff will present on best practices in engaged learning, teaching and scholarship. All are welcome to attend; registration is open online.

Lisa Freeman, acting president of NIU, will deliver the opening remarks as well as the keynote address: “Bringing NIU’s Mission to Life through Engagement.”

Concurrent “Best Practice” sessions begin at 9:15 a.m., 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. A plenary session is scheduled from 10:45 to 11:30 a.m., and a poster session will begin at 11:45 a.m.

Participants will close the day with a discussion on “The Future of Engaged Learning at NIU.”

kanelandHedin will discuss her department’s collaboration with Kaneland School District 302, where her teacher-licensure candidates in Special Education are collecting and analyzing assessment data to design and deliver effective lessons.

“We have so much positive feedback from our candidates, the district teachers and the school districts,” Hedin says. “It’s one thing to hear something from a professor, but it’s another thing for that information to come directly from your clinical site and your cooperating teachers. Our students get that reflection; they get that piece where they say, ‘You know, I just saw this in my clinical placement. Why do you do it that way?’ ”

Faculty, meanwhile, are on site in Kaneland.

“As we started working with the district representatives about what they need, we made them aware of the advantages of having a cluster of candidates working there so that we could bring our coursework to Kaneland,” she says. “We came up with some curriculum to deliver to their classroom teachers, specifically about writing IEPs and IEP goals.”

Young will talk about Open Doors, her Educate Local program that takes NIU students to teach at Lincoln Elementary School in Bellwood, Ill.

Natalie Young

Natalie Young

Open Doors has two motives, one to motivate the college aspirations of Lincoln’s first- and second-graders and another to expose NIU teacher-candidates to “understand the importance of having experiences in a setting where minorities are the largest population.”

“When reflecting on their experiences through the Open Doors program, my students express appreciation for additional hands-on, in-the-field opportunities with young students,” Young says. “Students collaborate on teams to create lessons specifically targeted to the needs of the students. We go, and we work directly with young students directly. Who doesn’t learn best by doing?”

Experiences like the ones provided by Open Doors are essential for undergraduate students before they become actual classroom teachers, she adds.

“I can give my students lots of articles and tell them to read about what others say it looks like to teach in predominantly minority schools. We can read, read, read, and we can discuss, discuss, discuss,” she says, “but it’s completely different when you meet that primary school child who’s right in front of you, connecting with you, and you’re connecting with them. It’s different when you’re sitting there crisscross-applesauce, working directly with and engaging with students of color in a way in which you may have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing.”

Hedin and Young are eager to learn from the other presenters, and are grateful for the opportunity to do so.

“I am a lifelong learner, and I need not only to continue to work on my skills but to engage with colleagues who are doing the same things. I also need to be a model of that for my students,” Hedin says.

open-doors-fi

Open Doors

“To have engagement initiatives like this come down from the president and the provost is terrific,” she adds. “It really shows a dedication of resources to actually make certain that engaged learning occurs and to help people understand how it can occur.”

Young, a doctoral student in her department, regards the ELTS conference as a university-based version of what goes on in K-12 schools all the time.

“I like to see what types of engagement activities and program others are doing,” Young says. “I’m always curious about what other educators are doing and how it’s working for them, and that’s what teachers do all the time. We get creative ideas from each other, and if we listen and collaborate, we continue to grow as professionals.”

For more information on the ELTS conference, call (815) 753-8154 or email rkersh@niu.edu.



Getting to Know You: SEED finds creative way to engage freshmen, transfer students

Angie Lobdell

Angie Lobdell

Angie Lobdell knows her way around schools.

When her youngest child was born in 2001, she became a stay-at-home mom. And when that child began kindergarten, she maternally followed.

“I decided to work at the school. I got a job as a para,” Lobdell says. “Later I got a promotion to reading aide – or Title I aide – and I thought, ‘I’m already doing some lesson-planning, and I always wanted to finish college, so let’s just do it.’ ”

Heather Kerfoot found inspiration from one of her oldest son’s former teachers.

“Both of my sons, who are both teenagers, have special ed in their educational lives, and I have seen the great things it can do for students who really need it. I’ve seen it make a big change in their academic abilities and performance,” says Kerfoot, who lives in Naperville.

“There’s one great teacher who really made a difference for my 17-year-old when he was an eighth-grader,” she adds. “In fact, he still communicates with this teacher, and I can’t say enough about what he did for us.”

Roxanne Espinoza’s light bulb moment came long before adulthood.

“I got the wonderful opportunity to do a Partners Club in junior high,” Espinoza says. “They pair you up with a student with a disability, and you do fun activities after school. I just enjoyed the experience. I helped students with disabilities with their homework, and I just loved that.”

Lobdell, Kerfoot and Espinoza have plenty in common.

Toni Van Laarhoven

Toni Van Laarhoven

All are majoring in Special Education. All are transfer students, from Sauk Valley Community College, the College of DuPage and Harper College, respectively.

And all recently earned one credit each in a new course called “Exploring the Special Ed Major,” now required for all students who declare the major.

“For years, everyone has talked about the quality and importance of recruitment and retention,” says Toni Van Laarhoven, Presidential Teaching Professor in the Department of Special and Early Education.

“In our program – in Special Ed – we’d say the problem was that we never get to reach the freshmen and sophomores, and to pull them in to get to know our program, until they were in their junior year and in the professional block,” she adds.

Van Laarhoven noticed that her licensure candidates in Block 3 (the semester immediately before they begin to student-teach) were largely unaware of amazing resources and opportunities they had all through their NIU careers.

Student organizations. Student Services. The Educate and Engage Program. Undergraduate research. The Learning Center.

“But it was almost too late,” she says, “so we as a faculty started talking about, ‘What are the cool things we would like potential Special Ed majors to know?’ And we just developed this course.”

Coursework includes the making and keeping of one-on-one appointments with academic advisers and with Van Laarhoven herself, who taught the fall class one day a week in a blended face-to-face and online format.

Greg Conderman

Greg Conderman

Students learn about the structure of the program, including the professional blocks, as well as the requirements of getting in and staying in the major. They are told where to find more information on the Educator Licensure Test of Academic Proficiency (TAP) as well as tutoring, counseling and more.

They must complete “passport” activities such as locating faculty and departmental offices, meeting Department Chair Greg Conderman and conducting interviews with professors to learn about their academic backgrounds, their daily work and their research interests.

“We also do silly things,” Van Laarhoven says. “They have to go down to the Learning Center and take a selfie of themselves getting coffee. It’s like our best-kept secret: You don’t have to go to the library! There are a lot of things here that are fun.”

Beyond the basics, she says, the course offers comfort and early camaraderie.

“I tell students that we want them to feel like this is their home, and that they can come to any of us at any time,” she says. “They also have to write directions for how to go downstairs, how to find the advisers’ offices and all the way down to the little lounge in the basement of Graham Hall – ways to find all these places where they can belong.”

After piloting the program in Fall 2017, the professor believes the department has earned a gold medal for innovation.

“I could see the students’ eyes lighting up, like, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know this was possible,’ or, ‘I’m feeling like I’m so connected already. It makes me feel like I belong,’ ” she says. “For me, it’s just plain fun. I’m even learning about my own peers by hearing some of the interesting facts that the faculty are telling the students.”

Roxanne Espinoza

Roxanne Espinoza

Espinoza, Lobdell and Kerfoot agree.

“You can have anxiety going from a community college straight into a four-year university, and especially into Special Ed, which is such a broad category,” says Espinoza, who is from Schaumburg. “This helps you to look at what’s ahead in the program in terms of, ‘This is what I need to do. This is what I need to prepare for my future.’ ”

With an hour-long commute between campus and her home in Sterling, Lobdell is grateful for being pointed to the free coffee and friendly study environment of the Learning Center. She also enjoyed meeting other transfer students.

“I was very nervous coming from my little community college to Northern; I was only doing that part time and working full time. I finally made the switch this fall,” she says, adding that most of her traditional-age classmates in other courses “weren’t really my peers. Having this class just made me more comfortable.”

Kerfoot, who formerly managed real estate for Hoffman Estates-based Sears Holdings Corp., calls Van Laarhoven “a great ambassador for the Special Education program.”

“Toni did a great job of getting us entwined in the department – who the professors are, who the head of the department is, meeting a professor and interviewing them, talking with Dr. Conderman,” she says.

Heather Kerfoot

Heather Kerfoot

“One thing I thought was really nice was that you get to meet people who also want to be in Special Ed,” she adds. “Special Ed is a lot more than helping out your kid at home, and if I can help somebody else’s kids the way my kids have been helped, I would love to be a part of that.”

Most of all, Kerfoot gained empowerment during her interview of Associate Professor Sarah Johnston-Rodriguez.

“She primarily works with transitional students between 18 and 21, and that’s something I’m possibly interested in but haven’t committed to yet,” Kerfoot says.

“And as a mom, and especially as a mom of kids who have special education and a disability, I’ve kind of struggled with the idea of, ‘I guess this is what I want to do, but how do I not want to take all these kids home with me?’ ” she adds. “Dr. Rodriguez told me, ‘You’re not there to feel sorry for them. You’re there to help them.’ That really spoke to me. That really made sense. That’s something I can take with me. And it kind of got me past that.”



All-college meeting motivates faculty, staff to set 2018 focus

Laurie Elish-Piper

Laurie Elish-Piper

Laurie Elish-Piper plans to inspire – and expects to find inspiration – in 2018.

The dean of the NIU College of Education used the platform of the spring all-college meeting to reveal her “one word” focus for personal development and effort and to also encourage faculty and staff to choose their own “one word” missions.

“Mine is ‘inspire.’ One of my goals is to inspire others to do their best work, to set higher goals and to engage,” Elish-Piper told the audience. “I also want to make sure that I take the time to look at, learn about and be inspired by all the amazing work you’re doing.”

Evidence of that work proved in ample supply during the 90-minute meeting Jan. 9, which also included remarks from Acting NIU President Lisa Freeman.

Shining examples included expansion of Educate U.S., which this semester will send students to practice their teaching skills at a Native American reservation in North Dakota.

Meanwhile, Elish-Piper said, the “Engage” division of the donor- and partner-funded Educate and Engage Program soon will provide “fabulous opportunities” to non-licensure students.

Kinesiology majors can travel to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado while Sport Management students can visit several facilities in Indianapolis, including the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

College of Ed faculty and staff learned from David Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs, that enrollment in the College of Education is climbing, something unique among NIU’s seven colleges.

strategic-frameworkWalker (one word: “care”) partially attributed those gains – up 0.76 percent at the undergraduate level, and up 4.26 percent at the graduate level, for a grand total of 2.41 percent at the time of the all-college meeting – to the college’s emphasis on intentional growth, a pillar of the Strategic Action Planning Framework.

At the undergraduate level, the college is working on one new degree (the B.S. in Sport Management), four new minors (including the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education’s minor in Social Change Leadership), 19 new courses and three new certificates of study that will all be ready for Fall 2018 enrollment.

Graduate programs added a new certificate and a new specialization, both in the Department of Special and Early Education, and 17 new courses for Fall 2018.

Honors enrollment of College of Education students soared 24 percent in one year, Walker added.

Bill Pitney, associate dean of Research, Resources and Innovation, reported on progress in the framework’s Research Advancement objective despite small drops in the college’s research productivity.

Ben Creed and Zach Wahl-Alexander

Ben Creed and Zach Wahl-Alexander

Pitney (one word: “grace”) saluted two professors – Ben Creed from the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations; and Zachary Wahl-Alexander, from the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education – who were named to the PI Academy External Mentoring Program.

Five faculty members were recognized as recipients of Dean’s Research Grants. All eventually will present the results of their work, as previous grantees did during the fall semester.

It all sounded wonderful to Freeman, who called herself “optimistic about NIU’s future.”

“The College of Education values and priorities align with NIU’s mission and core values, as well as the university’s commitments to excellence, knowledge creation, innovative practice and social justice,” Freeman said.

“Moreover, your strategic planning efforts are appropriately reflective of the opportunities identified through Program Prioritization,” she added, “as well as the historical importance of the College of Education as an anchor of the university and a leader in P-20 educational innovation across our region, state, nation and world.”

She applauded the college’s new ranking from U.S. News & World Report – “As impressive as the No. 5 ranking is that the college was ranked No. 3 for peer respect. People are talking about NIU,” she said – as well as the University of Tetovo exhibition in the Blackwell History of Education Museum.

Laurie Elish-Piper and Lisa Freeman

Laurie Elish-Piper and Lisa Freeman

NIU’s chief executive encouraged the audience to “hope for the best and plan for the worst” when it comes to Springfield and budgets. The university is “prepared for the unthinkable,” she added.

Higher education must actively engage in the conversation in Illinois as some call for consolidation, she said. “We shouldn’t be staying away from tough conversations. We should be encouraging realistic conversation,” she said. “What we need to do is be unafraid to speak.”

Freeman then revealed her “one word” for 2018 – “relationships” – which reinforces the importance of collaboration.

Relationships provide resources for individuals and institutions. Relationships surround people with others who see the world differently. Relationships heal, reaffirm, encourage and, with a nod to Dean Elish-Piper, inspire.

“When you can never get enough time or money to do something,” Freeman said, “the value of relationships is one that should never be underestimated.”

Enjoy photos from the all-college meeting and the festive “Winter Wonderland” social event that followed immediately in the Learning Center.



Future teachers gain head start, sharpen skills as literacy tutors

Malika Lee started tutoring young children when she was a young child herself.

Now as she does that work professionally as a reading tutor at NIU’s Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic, the Early Childhood Education major has discovered her early ambition was right all along.

“I feel like I’ve always had great teachers, and I want to be that great teacher,” says Lee, a senior from Country Club Hills.

“The best part of working at the Literacy Clinic is the individual time I get with the students. Normally as a teacher, I have to focus on what this student’s doing, what this student’s doing, and I’m never able to focus on that one child,” she adds. “I have to realize that not every student learns in the same way, so I have to individualize my instruction so that my students can learn in different ways.”

Alexis Moaton

Alexis Moaton

For Alexis Moaton, a senior from Tinley Park, the motivation to teach came much later.

She came to NIU to major in Biology, but a freshman year Sociology course changed her direction.

Her professor spoke passionately about the school-to-prison pipeline that plagues many low-income communities, Moaton says. “If a child cannot read in the third grade, the chances of them going to jail later in life are very high,” she says.

That stark reality inspired her to switch her major to Elementary Education, “just wanting to make a change there, to get children more involved in reading and writing and finding an interest in school.”

One-on-one tutoring work at the Literacy Clinic has provided her a glimpse of such possibilities.

“A lot of times, you’ll see that a child misspells words, and you automatically assume that they’re just a bad speller,” Moaton says.

“But it’s like, ‘What exactly are you misspelling?’ Or, ‘What are you struggling with reading?’ Many times, when you break it down and analyze it in small portions instead of as a whole, you’re able to work on those specific skills that the child needs to develop to become a stronger reader and writer.”

Lee and Moaton are only two of several NIU students – inside the College of Education and out – who are acquiring unparalleled hands-on experience and teaching while earning money through work-study at the clinic.

Susan Massey (left) and Malika Lee

Susan Massey (left) and Malika Lee

Director Susan Massey knows that her tutors are not only gaining a leg up in the job market but also getting an amazing head start on becoming exemplary educators.

“Several of the tutors – our newest tutors – have actually started working here before they’ve had some of their methods courses,” Massey says. “So, when they get into their courses, I sometimes hear them say, ‘Oh, I learned about that at the clinic.’ They’re familiar with the assessment or the instructional strategy before they learn about it in the classroom.”

Beyond learning and practicing under the guidance of professional educators, the tutors also are simultaneously and organically preparing for their critical role as classroom-to-home liaisons.

“I do see them grow in their ability to work with students and also to talk with parents,” Massey says. “We do ask them to have a conversation with parents at the end of each session to discuss what happened during the tutoring session, what they might be able to work on at home.”

Located in the heart of the DeKalb-Sycamore retail and medical district, the Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic has offered reading support services for K-12 students for more than 60 years.

Clinic programs include America Reads, which provides free, one-on-one tutoring for K-5 students who struggle with reading.

Massey hopes to expand clinic-based, learning opportunities for Huskies by inviting the NIU Educators Club to volunteer and by making a practicum experience part of the Reading Teacher Endorsement program.

Kristine Wilke

Kristine Wilke

Kristine Wilke, a doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction who serves as a graduate assistant at the clinic, welcomes any and all chances to engage with the children and the NIU students alike.

“Working here at the Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic makes me feel good about myself when I leave every night because I know that I have made a difference in the lives of the tutors and in the lives of the students,” says Wilke, a former elementary school teacher in Sandwich, Ill.

“There are times when tutors may have questions and, not having the previous experience in a classroom, I can help them,” she adds. “I can help them work through problems, which also helps them with the students, and the student works through the problem, and, again, they’re both achieving that goal of moving forward and learning.”

First-hand clinic experiences exceed anything found in a book or classroom lecture, she says.

“Every child is not a textbook case. Each child is unique and an individual,” Wilke says.

NIU tutors “get to try different strategies. They also get to use different assessments and take the strategies from the data they collect to empower the students and embrace the skills that they do have so that they can actually become better and more proficient readers.”

Malika Lee

Malika Lee

Moaton agrees.

“We pinpoint exactly where students need help, and that allows us to work on certain skills. We work a lot on reading, spelling and writing because they all need to develop together,” she says.

“A lot of times, when children are learning to read, they don’t necessarily develop the writing skills as well,” she adds. “We’ll pick up a book, and then after we read the book, there is a lot of comprehension that goes into it – like, ‘Were you able to understand what was in the story?’ and also developing those writing skills as well. Along with writing comes spelling.”

Lee appreciates the clinic’s tactic to match tutoring with the interests of the children, such as sports, to make the time “fun and very educational.”

It’s fun – in the “rewarding” sense – for Lee as well as she watches the progress of her flock.

“If one week they weren’t able to read a word, but the next week they come and they could read a word, I’m like, ‘Wow! You did it! You finally did it! Good job!’ That’s just like a pat on the back to me and to them. I just get so happy,” she says.

“A lot of kids get confused with the ‘d’ and the ‘b’ because they’re kind of similar,” she adds. “One day, a student finally was able to recognize that the ‘d’ was a ‘d’ and not a ‘b,’ and I was able to tell the parent that.”

Some tutors aren’t on the path to teaching, however.

Zach Trueblood, an English major who graduated from NIU in December, brought his expertise in writing and literature to the tutor’s table. He plans to become a writer, although he admits that his time at the clinic has him “possibly revisiting the option of getting into education.”

“Before I worked here, I hardly knew how to set up a lesson plan or how to assess a child and see exactly what literacy needs that they had. I don’t really see it as a deterrent at all. I see it as more of an opportunity to learn,” says Trueblood, from Monticello, Ill.

Zach Trueblood

Zach Trueblood

Tutoring also allowed Trueblood to improve his patience – “Working with children, you definitely need to have a patient type of personality,” he says – while helping him to put down roots in a community far from his central Illinois hometown as he spoke with parents.

But it’s the children he’ll remember the most.

“If a child is struggling with literacy skills and reading issues and writing issues, it’s really kind of crucial for them to get some more reinforcement that maybe the parents can’t offer at home or that they’re not getting at school,” he says.

“Having a strong, positive reinforcement in these children’s lives, I think, is probably the most rewarding thing and probably the biggest takeaway I’m going to have from coming to college here at NIU. It just makes me happy to come here and see the smile on a kid’s face when they finally get a word or a concept that they’ve been struggling with for so long.”

Like Lee, he appreciates the lighter side of the clinic’s approach.

“Every session, we try to incorporate a little fun activity at the very end that’s educational at the same time,” Trueblood says. “We do some crazy, fun stuff, like reader’s theater, which is essentially reading out of a book. Everybody does funny voices. We do like a little play. The kids make it.”

Massey believes the “wonderful” and “caring” tutors succeed because they are chosen well.

clinic“The undergraduates we have here are really interested and really like the children. One of the questions we ask them in the interview is, ‘What are your experiences with children? Why do you like children?’ We want people that are excited and exuberant,” she says.

“They really love the children and want to help them. The children look up to them as role models, and I think it’s always good for them to have a role model that is not a parent or a teacher but someone that’s a college student,” she adds.

She enjoys watching the interactions of tutors, children and parents, especially the high-spirited energy that bookends each session.

“They go running back to their tutoring and then come out talking about what they read or what they did,” she says. “You hear the laughter as they are playing with one another and engaging in some sort of game that involves comprehension or words.”

Her tutors are happy as well. Just ask Lee.

“It doesn’t really feel like a job. It doesn’t feel like I’m coming to work because it’s something I like to do,” Lee says. “This experience is very beneficial to me because of the relationships that I gain with the students and even the workers. Everybody here is great. We teach each other, we teach the students and we help each other grow.”



Project VITALL group explores Consumer Electronics Show

Buddy

Buddy, “the companion robot” developed by BLUE FROG ROBOTICS. Photo by Stacy Kelly.

Stacy Kelly wants a robot.

The associate professor in the NIU College of Education’s Vision Program came to that realization after she and a trio of graduate students in the Project VITALL master’s degree program spent three days at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“We need to have a robot,” says Kelly, who interacted with the machines and watched their realistic movements.

“People who are blind or visually impaired now often use guide dogs for traveling safely and effectively. How could a robot take the place of a guide dog? Dogs have a life expectancy. Guide dogs have to retire. People wouldn’t have to get a new dog every six or seven years. They could get a four-legged robot,” she says.

“Although the technology is not fully there now, it will be there soon, and we don’t want to wait until it’s there,” she adds. “We went to see the technology for the masses to think about how it could apply to the blind. We want to understand it now and know how it can help with our instruction.”

NIU’s group glimpsed myriad mind-boggling possibilities for robots as assistive technology for people who are blind or visually impaired – all things that the practitioners Kelly prepares through the Department of Special and Early Education must know to best serve their future clients.

She and the students – Julie Hapeman, Lizzy Koster and Lacey Long – will present their findings Feb. 15 at the 2018 Illinois Chapter of the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired Conference.

They also plan to publish an article about their Consumer Electronic Show adventure.

Stacy Kelly

Stacy Kelly

“It was the cutting edge of all cutting edges. It was the edge of the edge of the edge. That’s where we were,” Kelly says. “Everyone there was so entrepreneurial, and it was like having a crystal ball that works in being able to see the future.”

Among the coolest things they experienced: driverless vehicles.

“We had the opportunity to ride around Las Vegas in a self-driving car and other automated transportation – self-driving buses, trolleys, things that no longer require a human to get from one place to another in a timely fashion. That was just off the charts!” Kelly says.

“One of the biggest constraints for people who are blind or visually impaired is figuring out methods of safe and independent travel,” she adds. “Now, someday, they can have a car in their garage or in the parking lot and just go.”

Called “the world’s gathering place for all those who thrive on the business of consumer technologies,” the Consumer Electronics Show “has served as the proving ground for innovators and breakthrough technologies for 50 years – the global stage where next-generation innovations are introduced to the marketplace.”

NIU’s contingent financed its trip with Project VITALL, part of a five-year, $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to launch of a new master’s degree that provides specialized training in assistive technology.

Both students and professor were excited to see how many smart home and voice-activated technologies were powered by Amazon Echo and Google Home.

“Everybody’s linking into the same ecosystem,” Kelly says. “We have Alexa and Google Home in our classrooms already, so it confirmed to me that we’re on the right track.”

From left: Julie Hapeman, Lacey Long, Lizzy Koster and Stacy Kelly

From left: Julie Hapeman, Lacey Long, Lizzy Koster and Stacy Kelly

 

She also realized that NIU, home to the world’s first academic program in assistive technology in the area of blindness and visual impairments, has proven prescient in its long emphasis on tech.

Just talking to the many vendors about how their technologies could have additional applications for those who are blind or visually impairment sparked light bulb moments, she adds. “People were saying, ‘Oh, for the blind! I never thought of that!’ ”

Hapeman, a certified orientation and mobility specialist in the Milwaukee Public Schools, reports that her ride in the self-driving car made “an immediate impact on two of my students.”

Julie Hapeman (center) with students Carlos and Xin Ju.

Julie Hapeman (center) with students Carlos and Xin Ju.

“As I was waiting for my turn, one of my students, a 15-year-old student who is totally blind, sent me a text to ask how I was enjoying the conference,” Hapeman says.

“The time she sent her message was the time I would have seen her for our weekly lesson, and it was serendipitous that her text arrived right after my Lyft ride had been confirmed,” she adds. “I texted her back that I was about to ride in a self-driving car, and her response was, ‘OHMYGOD! I AM SO JEALOUS!!!!’ ”

Hapeman knew she had to call her student from the car, turning the phone over to the engineer on board: “The questions she asked with all of the excitement in her voice were marvelous!”

After texting the news to another student, Hapeman realized the magnitude of those moments.

“For both of these students, the possibility that in their lifetimes they might be able to own and operate a car by themselves seemed within their grasp,” she says. “Helping these students move one step closer to one of their dreams was the greatest moment of the entire CES.”

Lacey Long

Lacey Long

Long, a teacher of students with visual impairments and a certified orientation and mobility specialist in the Morton-Sioux Special Education Unit of North Dakota, calls the Consumer Electronics Show “amazing.”

“There was such a diverse range of technology available. Our group used the opportunity to question how these technologies can be adapted for individuals with visual impairments across the board,” Long says.

“One upcoming product that I thought would be extremely useful was the Casio Mofrel 2.5D printer,” she adds. “Although it is being marketed to design professionals, it has the capabilities to print textures and Braille, which could increase the accessibility my students have to tactile illustrations for improved literacy.”

Lizzy Koster

Lizzy Koster

Koster, who has explored the potential of Google Translate for people with visual impairments, found the Las Vegas experience an informative one.

“The Consumer Electronics Show serves as a barometer for how the tech industry gauges consumer interests and needs and their response to those projections,” Koster says.

“At present, connectivity, be it through social robots or smart home innovations, is at the forefront,” she adds. “What this means for our students and clients with visual impairment is that while select innovators are developing products to better serve their needs, consumer trends are moving toward more reliance on smart devices and automation.”

For teachers, she says, “this indicates that our students and clients will need to be well-versed in basic ‘smart’ technology in order to determine how they can work with it and adapt it as necessary.”

NIU facilitates that readiness in its graduates.

“Our field desperately needs this program,” Kelly says. “All the time and energy we’ve put in for the last several decades is paying off. We’re not at Square One. We’re at Square Million. Every single day, we’re working with the newest technology and we’re bringing it into our classroom.”



Cream, sugar, skills: Café 432 coffee vendors strut their stuff for future special ed teachers

coffee-cart-1

Barista!

Every Monday and Wednesday, the crew of Somonauk Middle School’s Café 432 Coffee Cart makes the morning rounds, selling hot cups of joe to caffeine-craving faculty and staff.

Mondays are for James R. Wood Elementary School. Wednesdays are for their own school, home to fifth- through eighth-grades, and the nearby high school. The prices are unbeatable: 50 cents for black coffee, $1 for coffee with mix-ins, 75 cents for a plain hot chocolate and $1 for hot chocolate with marshmallows.

Sometimes, these students who are all in the Life Skills program don their blue aprons to serve coffee to local veterans. Sometimes, it’s to the village’s firefighters.

On Wednesday, Dec. 6, the cart came to Gabel Hall 100 in the NIU College of Education.

“The coffee cart is a great way to teach the kids to be employable,” says Amanda Jungels, a Special Education major from Sugar Grove who spent her fall clinical placement at Somonauk Middle School. “It’s life skills with academics mixed in.”

Her analysis is spot-on, confirms Tim Ulrich, director of special education in Somonauk Community Unit School District 432, who calls the initiative “academics masked as a coffee cart.”

coffee-cart-6

Greeter!

“We’re really focused on what our students are going to be able to do when they graduate, and we want to give them skills that will translate to the workplace,” Ulrich says. “We start them at an early age. The sooner we give these skills to kids, the more employable they’ll be.”

Jungels has been working with Somonauk Middle School special education teachers Kara Scott, an alumna of the NIU Department of Special and Early Education, and Jessica Plante. She will stay under their wings next semester during the first half of her student-teaching placement.

Bringing the coffee cart crew to NIU provided not only a stage to demonstrate “the different things they can do,” Jungels says, but also a good chance “to branch out and serve at a different place.”

“We’ve been talking about it for a while,” she says. “They seem really excited about college in general.”

NIU Presidential Teaching Professor Toni Van Laarhoven volunteered her classroom for the on-campus sale; she and her students became happy customers, as did Dean Laurie Elish-Piper and associate deans Bill Pitney and David Walker.

“Kara and Jessica made packets of information for our current Special Education majors that could assist them in developing a similar business in the future. They shared budgeting information and forms, gave a great presentation and shared a great video,” Van Laarhoven says.

“I love that Kara is an alum who was interested in giving back to NIU,” she adds, “and sharing wonderful strategies with our current and future special educators.”

Van Laarhoven also was impressed by the coffee cart initiative: “This is a great example of embedding all kinds of life skills in a functional activity.”

coffee-cart-575

Café 432 workers rotate between four jobs – cart operator, greeter, barista and cashier – in which they interact with customers, take orders, measure and pour coffee, make change and clean up.

Job expectations are clearly defined. For example, the greeter will “smile and make eye contact with the customer, start with a form of greet statement, end with a departing statement and will keep a positive attitude.”

During their shifts, they develop independence while focusing on their math, language arts and social skills. Afterward, they discuss how each morning went.

“We started this at the beginning of the year,” Scott says. “We’re making a budget. We’re learning how to greet. We’re taking time to reflect on the different stages.”

Meanwhile, Ulrich says, the coffee crew has made many friends inside and outside the school walls. “Our students are members of the community,” he says. “Everyone knows our students.”

Laurie Elish-Piper, Toni Van Laarhoven and Kara Scott

Laurie Elish-Piper, Toni Van Laarhoven and Kara Scott

“These guys know more of the people in the district than any other of the kids,” Plante adds. “They know their names. They know their coffee orders.”

Justin Snider, principal of Somonauk Middle School and a double-alum of the NIU College of Education, is proud of the Café 432 students.

“I like to see them out and interacting with new people and new spaces,” Snider says. “It’s a way to enhance their skills. They practice those skills every day, but usually with students and teachers they’re already comfortable with.”

Laura Hedin, an associate professor of Special Education at NIU, calls the coffee cart “a tremendous opportunity” for the Somonauk students.

“Students with disabilities need to understand appropriate social communications, whether it’s just with people they meet out at the mall or in a job setting,” Hedin says. “We need to provide a context in which students can learn what is appropriate. They really need opportunities to go out with new people and to practice those skills.”

coffee-cart-4

Ah, coffee!

Visiting NIU could prove aspirational for the middle-schoolers.

“Everybody has to kind of see themselves in that setting and decide, ‘Is this something I want to have in my future? How do I get there?’ ” Hedin says.

“Some of these student may come to community colleges if appropriate for their own goals and ideas about what they want their future to be,” she adds. “There are also an increasing number of opportunities at four-year colleges as well – specialized programs so persons with disabilities can have undergraduate experiences. Those are expanding all over the country.”

Future teachers like Jungels, who Hedin believes is more than “just a buddy” to the middle-schoolers, can help to make those dreams come true.

“Amanda is an outstanding student, and she’s going to be a wonderful teacher. She already is a wonderful teacher. Kara Scott told us that it hasn’t been like having a clinical student; it’s like having a co-teacher who’s already licensed,” Hedin says.

“Amanda is very creative and a wonderful problem-solver with a heart for working with students with significant disabilities,” she adds. “She has this ability to make these really strong connections with her students but at the same time working toward the academic or social goals they need to be working on. She’s not setting the bar low.”

coffee-cart-575-2

NIU teacher-licensure candidate Amanda Jungels (right) joins
the Somonauk Middle School coffee cart crew for a group photo.