Tag: Department of Curriculum and Instruction

Double-alumna wins Fulbright

Barbara Abromitis

Barbara Abromitis

Barbara Abromitis wanted to become a teacher.

That goal brought her to the NIU College in Education, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education in 1983.

Life had other plans, though.

“When my kids were young, I started doing grant-writing because I could do that from home,” Abromitis says.

She had found her unexpected niche, and two decades later, became director of grants at the College of DuPage.

“I work closely with faculty to develop program ideas, write proposals, find funding for them and then oversee the management of those projects and troubleshoot,” she says. “I work with pretty much every department of the college, and I know a little about a lot of things. It’s interesting for me to see what they all do.”

Now the two-time NIU College of Education alumna is the thrilled recipient of a Fulbright grant.

Abromitis is among six Americans chosen to attend a two-week seminar in Moscow for community college administrators. Six counterparts from Russia also will participate.

Fulbright’s International Education Administrators (IEA) seminars help U.S. international education professionals and senior higher education officials create empowering connections with the societal, cultural and higher education systems of other countries.

Grantees can learn about the host country’s education system as well as establish networks of U.S. and international colleagues over the course of an intensive two week grant duration. They return with enhanced ability to serve and encourage international students and prospective study-abroad students.

globe“My understanding is that it’s basically an opportunity to share how we develop our programs, how we address issues such as student completion, how we help people with their career paths,” she says. “We will share what we do and learn from each other. The most interesting part of visiting other parts of the world is that people have such different perspectives.”

Other activities of the seminar, scheduled from March 31 through April 14, are field trips to Russian universities and technical colleges.

She wants to return with ideas that will benefit students and faculty at the College of DuPage.

“I’m very poised to take what I learn to the faculty – ‘Can we do this?’ What makes sense for us?’ Not everything is going to translate perfectly,” she says. “I’m hoping to make different connections and see what applies to us here.”

Those conversations will allow her to continue putting to good use her 1999 Ed.D. in Reading Education with a cognate in Educational Psychology and extensive coursework in Curriculum and Supervision.

“My doctoral program at NIU was wonderful. Even though I’m not working in the field of literacy right now, I feel like I use those skills all the time,” Abromitis says.

“I’m looking at statistics, working to analyze what’s happening in the situation, knowing theories about how people learn and the best way to teach,” she adds. “Even in just trying to build a case for why a funder should support a program, I’m using those things very often. One of our biggest grants is an Adult Education/Family Literacy Grant, and I enjoy working closely with those program people and looking for additional funding for literacy.”

Related:



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.”



Research road show: Cohen, Strid collaborate with students

irc-1Six NIU students affiliated with the College of Education were among the presenters at the 41st Annual Statewide Conference for Teachers Serving Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Students.

Recently graduated master’s student Stephanie Eller and undergraduates Lorena Flores, Autumn Gathings, Christina Poe, Raven Stepter and Amor Taylor joined Department of Curriculum and Instruction professors James Cohen and John Evar Strid in sharing research.

Eller and Flores joined Cohen for “Undocumented Immigrants: Myths and Realities,” which also served as the basis for a featured article in the Illinois Association for Multilingual Multicultural Education winter bulletin with the two students as the lead authors.

Flores then presented for a second time with Cohen and Strid, addressing the question of “Can Paradigm Shifting Occur in a One-Semester Diversity Course?”

Poe and Cohen presented “English Learners’ Writing Needs in the Elementary Classroom” to a full house.

“The room was good for 60 people but well over 80 showed up, with people sitting on the floor and standing in the doorway,” Cohen says. “Christina dominated the room with her wealth of knowledge regarding the research and practical applications of writing strategies for English learners.”

Gathings, Stepter and Taylor came well-prepared for their Dec. 7 talk on “Roadblocks to Bilingualism: How Teachers Become Bilingual.”

Autumn Gathings, Raven Stepter and Amor Taylor present Dec. 7 in Oak Brook.

Autumn Gathings, Raven Stepter and Amor Taylor
present Dec. 7 with their professors in Oak Brook.

The three already had gained solid footing during earlier appearances at the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME) Conference in Salt Lake City and at the Illinois Education Research Council Symposium at NIU-Naperville, where they described their findings on the language-related backgrounds of teachers.

Reponses to questions Strid posed to his students in an Applied Linguistics course provided the raw data; Cohen and the three students pored through the 126 essays to identify themes and commonalities and to discern conclusions and recommendations.

“I’m a nerd when it comes to organizing, reading and writing, so this project was made for me,” says Gathings, a junior Elementary Education major from Oswego. “I feel important. I’m using my free time to do something that I know is going to pay off later. This will help me stand out.”

Cohen began working with the trio a few semesters ago.

“I was never able to work with a professor as an undergrad,” says Cohen, who always wanted to offer that chance to those he taught.

So he made his pitch, telling students he was willing to add them to his projects or to lend his expertise to their research. Either way, he told the students, the goal was to get published.

Gathings, Stepter and Taylor chose the former option, learning that research is a long and difficult but worthwhile process.

James Cohen

James Cohen

“Dr. Cohen is so passionate. He just influenced me in a way that I felt a natural connection to what he was saying,” adds Stepter, a senior Early Childhood Studies major. “Knowing there was someone who believed in me gave me a boost in my confidence. It taught me that I can do more, and how to contribute that into a school setting.”

Taylor, a junior Middle Level Teaching and Learning major specializing in English, was excited for the chance to publish.

“I said, ‘Oh, I can get something published? I can write something?’ That drew me in. That was intriguing for me,” Taylor says. “I love to write and to read, and this incorporates both of these things. I read the people’s stories, and I get to write a paper.”

Cohen feels like a proud father.

“They were tremendously helpful. They got so good at coding that I said, ‘OK, go on and do your thing.’ We’ve been expanding their role in the presentation every time,” he says. “They’re learning how to analyze qualitative data. How often does an undergrad get to analyze qualitative data? They’re learning how to present at professional conferences. We’ll be writing up the data soon.”

He sees benefits beyond the obvious.

Gathings, Stepter and Taylor have explored second-language acquisition theory and simultaneous vs. sequential bilingualism in a way deeper than any textbook can provide.

“They’ve internalized this information,” Cohen says. “When they go and become teachers, they’ll be able to articulate things most teachers aren’t able to articulate.”

John Evar Strid

John Evar Strid

“They’ve gotten an insight into the research process,” Strid says. “They did a phenomenal job – going through the data, finding the salient points, putting it together for the presentation, doing the actual presentation. It opens doors for them.”

Sure enough, Cohen and Strid say, the three students were a hit in Salt Lake City, where “the audience just fell in love with them. They’re so smart, articulate and passionate.”

In Naperville, they add, representatives from Elgin’s U46 and other school districts were handing over business cards and encouraging the students to call them after graduation.

“No matter which way they decide to take their careers, it’s a big win all around for them,” Strid says. “They really showed the initiative to follow through, and that really says a lot about them – all positive.”

Meanwhile, at Cohen’s encouraging, all three student applied and were accepted for the maiden voyage of Educate Global and traveled to teach in China during the summer. Eller also participated at Cohen’s suggestion, teaching in Taiwan.

“We agreed to go do one thing with Dr. Cohen,” Gathings says, “and now we’ve gone to China and to three different conferences.”

“I thought we were just going to get published,” Taylor adds with a laugh.

The students say they’ve grown in their confidence in themselves as well as in their belief in the importance of bilingualism and multilingualism.

Cohen (third from right) introduces Raven, Amor and Autumn to Wayne  Wayne E. Wright (blue shirt), associate dean for Research, Graduate Programs and Faculty Development at the Purdue University College of Education.

Networking: Professor Cohen (third from right) introduces Raven, Amor and Autumn
to Wayne E. Wright (blue shirt), associate dean for Research, Graduate Programs
and Faculty Development at the Purdue University College of Education.

 

“We definitely need to advocate for not only bilingualism but biliteracy as well,” Taylor says, “and to replace judgment with curiosity.”

“I learned to advocate for others,” Stepter says, “who can’t advocate for themselves.”

The words are music to Cohen’s ears. “I am sincerely impressed. They got it. They got it!” he says. “They’re hungry for knowledge.”



Replace judgment with curiosity: Educate Global travelers return to United States with eyes open to power of classroom diversity

After 14 hours in the air, there was obviously no need to tell Marcus Lewis that he wasn’t in DeKalb anymore.

Yet his first steps off the plane into a nearly empty airport in China, with none of the crowded hustle and bustle of O’Hare, did the job anyway.

His important realizations would come later, however, as the third-year Elementary Education major spent six weeks from early July through mid-August teaching English to teenagers at the Beijing Royal School.

Language barriers toppled – and learning took place – in Beijing and also in Taiwan at NIU’s other partner: the Miaoli County Government Education Bureau schools.

English lessons came through an exploration of fairy tales, movies, TV shows, comic books and superheroes. Through morning exercise. Through telling stories of life in America. Through touching U.S. currency. Through synonyms and antonyms. Through celebrating the Fourth of July. Through song and dance. Through imaginations sparked with “a bunch of glue and a bunch of sticks.” Through hugs and tears.

Marcus Lewis (center) and Alexis Moaton teach in China.

Marcus Lewis (center) and Alexis Moaton teach in China.

“Students and kids are kids wherever you go,” says Lewis, one of 37 NIU College of Education students who participated in the summer’s maiden voyage of Educate Global, which provided round-trip airfare, room and board and cultural tours at no cost to the students or the college.

“Things can be culturally different, but people – regardless of wherever you go – are people. If they want to acquire some knowledge, they’re going to do so, and they’re going to do so in a way that’s rewarding to you as their teacher.”

Part of the college’s experiential Educate and Engage Program, Educate Global was designed exactly for outcomes like that one in China and Taiwan.

Undergraduates in Early Childhood Education, Elementary Education, Middle Level Teaching and Learning or Special Education, as well as graduate students in the same licensure programs, or alumni currently holding teaching licenses, immersed themselves in what Dean Laurie Elish-Piper calls “an amazing opportunity to expand their worldviews.”

Doing so, she adds, enhanced their preparation and resiliency for rapidly changing classrooms in the United States. “We are seeing an increasing diversity in the K-12 population,” Elish-Piper says.

“Our graduates are going to encounter students who speak different languages, who come from different cultures, who have different experiences,” she adds. “They are now more aware. They will approach teaching from a more global understanding. They appreciate the diversity and differences our students bring to the classroom.”

Madison Geraghty (left)

Madison Geraghty (left)

NIU’s globetrotters, who were urged to replace judgement with curiosity, also returned with greater confidence and flexibility.

“Each student who participated has been transformed in different ways. They’ve experienced the life of being a teacher in a very unfamiliar setting,” she says. “Educate Global was an eye-opening opportunity to be in a part of the world where the culture, the language and the educational setting are so different.”

David Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs, witnessed that with his own eyes.

Walker, along with Terry Borg, director of the college’s Office of External and Global Programs, visited all the classrooms in China and Taiwan to observe the NIU students in action and to debrief with them afterward.

“I saw our students really grow. I saw them be really self-reflective about how they need to change and develop,” Walker says, adding that “the life-altering set of experiences” enabled students to learn about themselves, what they do well and where they need to improve.

“Even now, I’ve had a number of them come up to me – in Gabel Hall, in Graham Hall, on the sidewalk – and tell me how Educate Global has changed their lives. It’s changed the trajectory of what they want to do with teaching,” he adds. “These are comments initiated by the students, which reveals to me what a powerful experience this was.”

Borg knows why the Huskie travelers feel that way.

“When we place them internationally, they become the minority. They, in many cases, find out for the first time what it’s like to actually be in a situation where they’re not in control or can’t navigate,” he says.

ed-global-9“For somebody to survive in that situation, and to excel and to thrive in that situation, means that that teacher-candidate is adaptable, is flexible, can make something out of nothing,” he adds. “It allows our students to become better citizens of the world. It requires our students to look at the world differently. It allows them to really reflect, and also to really reach out to students that perhaps don’t come from the same place that they come from.”

Case in point: Students in China and Taiwan “do not behave like American students,” Borg says.

“These students do not ask questions. That’s not how their educational system is set up,” he says. “Our students had to begin to ask more questions. Our students had to become far more observant in terms of the interactions that the Taiwanese or the Chinese students had.”

Quickly, however, “our students began to realize that the way they would behave around American students must be different in terms of how they would behave around Chinese and Taiwanese students, in particular in terms of how to build rapport.”

“Many times, an Educate Global student would have to break down that wall in order for that student to begin to share and to become more open,” Borg says.

“The effective educator really needs to be prepared to meet students where they’re at and move them to the next level,” he adds. “This is what NIU’s College of Education is all about. We want to be sure that our students have a whole toolkit to pull out at any moment.”

Amor Taylor, a junior Middle Level Teaching and Learning major, used fun activities to flatten language barriers.

Taylor and her co-teacher played games with students at the Beijing Royal School, who ranged in age from 11 to 15, asking them to demonstrate comprehension by completing unfinished sentences or drawing pictures of words spoken in English.

Nonetheless, “some of the students got frustrated. They were really hard on themselves. They are more disciplined, and when they do things wrong, they are really angry at themselves, and some of them would cry,” Taylor says.

“We would tell them, ‘It’s OK.’ We tried to show them that we’ve been here for five weeks, and we still don’t know as much Chinese as you know English,” she adds.

“I felt like that I was actually helping them, so it was very rewarding. I felt like we were making a difference. They were happy they were learning, and we were happy we were teaching them in a way they could learn.”

Nicole Morales (right) enjoys a meal with her Chinese students.

Nicole Morales (right) enjoys a meal with her Chinese students.

 

When Taylor returns eventually to her native Chicago to teach in “a school that’s impoverished,” she will bring the experiences of China with her.

“You have to slow down and take your time, because it’s not always that the students don’t understand. It’s that sometimes you’re going a little too fast for them to be able to let you know that they understand,” Taylor says.

“Sometimes we look only at the majority, and there a few stragglers behind. They’re still not grasping the material as quickly. We have to make sure that everybody knows it before we continue on because, when we go on to another subject, then they don’t know the first one – so they’re not going to be able to grasp that one either.”

Her confidence has risen to meet such challenges.

Amor Taylor

Amor Taylor

“There are people that we feel like might not ever ‘get it,’ and we have to strive to help those students, because it’s our job to make sure they get it. We have to figure out a way to help them so they can move on, so they can continue in life and continue in their education,” she says.

“I was able to just get a glimpse of what happens when you slow down you help them,” she adds, “helping their confidence to grow so they can feel comfortable learning the material even if they make mistakes. That made me feel good as a teacher.”

Lewis realized similar progression in his abilities.

Building affinity with Chinese students, despite “my zero knowledge of Mandarin, (their) limited knowledge of English,” he says, is good preparation for working to relate to students of different backgrounds.

“Just because something makes sense to me one way doesn’t mean it’s going to make sense to that student if I try and present that information to them that way,” Lewis says.

Meanwhile, he appreciated the challenge to plan, execute, reflect on and modify lessons. He enjoyed the teamwork with his co-teacher. He remains committed to flexibility while staying focused on his goals.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity because it gave me a chance to grow,” says Lewis, who also taught in the Houston Independent School District earlier this year through the College of Education’s Educate U.S. program.

“If I can get different experiences, I’m open to those experiences. I’m open to doing things different ways if that is what’s going to foster this knowledge or inspire that student,” he adds. “I may not have as much experience now as more-seasoned teachers, but I want to collaborate. I want to work with them. I want their ideas – because I want to be a better teacher.”

Jodi Lampi, David Walker and Terry Borg

Jodi Lampi, David Walker and Terry Borg

NIU is assisting him in that mission, he adds.

“People want you to succeed here,” Lewis says, “and they’re trying to provide you with as many experiences as possible so that you are successful, so that you are prepared.”

Educate Global travelers can differentiate themselves in the job market as well, partially through an incredible and affordable international opportunity that many could not manage on their own.

Students also can apply for the university’s EngagePLUS Academic Transcript Notation, which documents such skills as critical thinking, organization and teamwork to employers and graduate program.

“Our students who participated in Educate Global are highly motivated,” Elish-Piper says. “They are mature and serious. They are excited about taking a chance – of going out of their comfort zone, learning about others and, more importantly, learning about themselves.”

“The experiences they explain to principals and school districts are phenomenal,” Walker adds.
“I don’t know of many schools in our area that offer this kind of program. It’s the chance of a lifetime, and will be a hallmark of their lives.”

James Cohen, an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, just provided a professional reference for one of those students.

James Cohen (center)

James Cohen (center)

Cohen was one of four NIU faculty who traveled to China and Taiwan to supervise and mentor the students; colleagues Jodi Lampi, John Evar Strid and Samina Hadi-Tabassum did the same.

“What I saw in our students was that they stepped up to the plate,” Cohen says.

“I saw games. I heard songs. I saw projects. I saw physical activities that got the students out of their chairs. I saw one teacher taking students outside, in the heat, to run while working on their English,” he adds. “I saw very little direct instruction. Most of it was student-centered, engaging activities.”

For someone like Cohen, who’s passionate about educational equity, those weeks in Taiwan proved that his philosophy – the College of Education’s philosophy – is getting through.

“I was very impressed with how hard they worked, and how serious they took their charge to be teachers to Taiwanese children,” he says. “They really, really, really wanted to make a difference. They wanted to be the best teachers they could be. They were open to constructive criticism. They were open to learning about the culture and the differences in lifestyles. They were open to experiencing a different world, and it was beautiful. It was very heartening.”

Educate Global, for its part, “opened their minds to the idea that not everybody is the same. It built empathy for the English Language Learners in their future classrooms,” he adds. “It will shape them for the rest of their lives, without question.”

ed-global-11



CoE’s Altus partnership blooms with El-Ed major Jamal Murphy

Jamal Murphy

Jamal Murphy

Jamal Murphy is not a typical NIU College of Education teacher-licensure candidate.

Raised on the West Side of Chicago, Murphy encountered an eighth-grade teacher who told him he would drop out by his sophomore year. What? Not finish high school?

“Once you tell me I can’t do something,” he says, “I want to do that.”

When he arrived at NIU – a campus that his high counselor deemed “too big” for Murphy – his initial years proved “heartbreaking” when he realized how far behind he was academically.

Now set to graduate in May 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, he is ready and eager to provide to younger generations what he believes he was “cheated out of” – a positive school experience that just might save their lives.

Murphy is also making plans to become a principal someday as well as a fierce advocate for the educational rights of students of color.

Until then, however, he is happily and productively immersed in the professional training ground of Altus Academy, where he is student-teaching for a year.

Founded by a group of NIU alumni and opened in August of 2013, the school in Chicago’s rough North Lawndale neighborhood is “up the street from mother’s house.”

Private, independent and not-for-profit, Altus aims to provide an excellent college preparatory education to underrepresented populations, including students from historical minority groups, low-income households and first-generation college households.

altus-logoIt’s a perfect fit for Murphy, who fits all of those target audiences.

“He grew up in this area, and he recognized that had he had an opportunity to be in an academic space like this, it would have benefited him. He wanted to go back,” says Portia Downey, professional development coordinator in the NIU College of Education.

“He’s connected with the students and their parents in a way that’s so meaningful. They trust him because they see that he understands and identifies with them. He’s embraced this idea of serving the underserved,” adds Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development in the college. “He really has become a part of the climate and the culture there, and is considered a member of the staff.”

Downey enjoyed her opportunity in October to see Murphy in action.

She also was energized by confirmation of her prediction that Altus founder, president and principal John Heybach, who holds two NIU degrees, would mentor Murphy and provide him with enriched experiences.

altus-3As part of Educate Local, Downey escorted a group of TLEE 385 students to Altus to lead a “readers theater” activity with the Altus children. TLEE 385 – “Differentiation in Elementary School Instruction: Field Experience with Diverse Learners” – provides clinical experiences to teacher-licensure candidates in their second professional semester.

NIU’s students worked with the Altus children on fluency, voice and reading with expression. They also engaged in “character education,” encouraging the children to support each other.

By the end of the day, the children performed four works that Downey chose for their messages of social justice: “America Poem,” “Crab and the Stone,” “Henry’s Freedom Box” and “Sadko and the Thousand Paper Cranes.”

The experience offered the teacher-licensure candidates more than invaluable practice in instruction and classroom management.

“We talk about how poverty can have an impact on instruction and learning,” Johnson says. “They were able to see and experience the effect that engaged instruction and positive environment has on learning.”

For Murphy, those are the classmates and experiences of his own childhood. He is learning lessons of another kind.

altus-7“Altus is teaching me how to plan. It’s teaching me how to be organized. I’m the most organized I’ve ever been in college and in my own life,” he says. “You start to understand yourself better. You understand who you are as a teacher.”

The Altus configuration – classes are grouped into three levels: second-, third- and fourth-grades; fifth- and sixth-grades; and seventh- and eighth-grades – has challenged him to find innovative ways to make the curriculum fresh and interesting for sixth-graders who learned it the year before.

Meanwhile, he is pushing himself to develop lessons and activities about history that resonate with children.

“Of course you should teach World War II, but one thing I’m realizing is that kids are not engaged by those things,” Murphy says. “They were born in 2007. Who cares about 1940?”

Spanish is also on his menu – something his fifth- and sixth-graders are teaching him.

“Never in a million years would I have thought I’d have a student teaching me Spanish,” he says. “I’ve learned that this is just about being open to new ideas, and not being scared or timid, but just hearing the students out, hearing the staff out, never taking anything personally but just taking the lessons they’re trying to teach me.”

Altus staff, for their part, are encouraging not to fear failure.

altus-6“I get a great vibe from them. They’re open to my ideas. They don’t shove me off, and they let me make mistakes,” Murphy says. “You try to have your one way – ‘this is the way’ – but they literally are letting me make mistakes, and I feel that’s how I’m learning. Those mistakes make me better. They’ve already made me better.”

Murphy’s immediate plans are to pass the edTPA, which measures a teacher-candidate’s abilities in planning, instruction and assessment, and is required to obtain teacher licensure in Illinois and several other states.

He also is excited to bring his mother, Margaret Murphy, to DeKalb for commencement in May.

“I want my mother to have that experience of coming to a college campus and seeing someone graduate,” he says, “to show her that it really does happen, that it’s not just on TV. It’s not just on ‘The Cosby Show.’ It’s not just on ‘A Different World.’ ”

Following his return to the Chicago Public Schools, and his eventual master’s degree that will qualify him for a principal’s position, he hopes to make a similar mark in Arizona.

The Grand Canyon State’s Senate Bill 1070, which requires immigration status checks during law enforcement stops, motivates him to become a champion for students from families that fall under such suspicion.

altus-5It exemplifies his recognition that “kids come from different backgrounds,” and that all deserve an effective education.

His eyes were opened during a clinical experience in a suburban, predominantly white school. While those children were not enduring the poverty and food deserts of the West Side of Chicago, many did live in single-parent homes racked by divorce and the emotional stress it causes.

Ultimately, his goal is to create positive change wherever he is employed.

“I want people to speak of me highly. I never want to have a negative connotation. I want to be a great advocate for learners and for other teachers. I want to challenge myself to become a better leader and a better person. I want to make my school district a better place,” Murphy says.

“I just want to do the job to the best of my ability. If you’re not trying to be the best, then what are you doing it for?” he adds. “I really thrive on being challenged, and I’ll never get tired of having challenges.”



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

crms-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

crms-12

The word on the card is “syrup.”

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

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

Clinton Rosette Principal Tim Vincent liked what he saw.

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

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

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

crms-8

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

Sarai Rivera

Sarai Rivera

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

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

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

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

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

John Gallione

John Gallione

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

crms-5

Rock-Paper-Scissors — with cheerleaders!

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

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

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

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

crms-4



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

Cynthia Taines

Cynthia Taines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Cohen

James Cohen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandy Lopez

Sandy Lopez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colleges are not immune, she adds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DREAM Action NIU

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

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

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

And it’s working, he says.

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



College welcomes 2017 group of Dean’s Achievement Scholars

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper greets Alivia Hansen.

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper greets Alivia Hansen.

Some have known forever.

“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” says Halley Fogerty, a pre-Elementary Education major from Wheaton. “I like the consistency of school. I like going to classes, taking notes, doing homework. It’s not just learning; it’s a lot of fun.”

As someone who vividly remembers rushing home from school as a young child to make PowerPoint presentations for her family, Fogerty holds dear the elementary years.

“You learn a lot about yourself. You learn to be resilient and to push through things that are hard,” she says. “I think this is the critical point in life. If you have a bad educator at an earlier age, you’re less likely to apply yourself when you’re older.”

Karli Tillema, a fellow pre-Elementary Education major, shares those sentiments.

“I’ve always wanted to teach since I was in kindergarten myself. I’ve never thought of anything else,” says the Belvidere native.

“Elementary school is a really big thing in how kids grow up and learn in the older levels – middle school and high school. It’s the start of their education,” she adds. “To know that I’m helping kids learn about things they will need to know in the future makes me happy.”

Alexis Safstrom

Alexis Safstrom

For some, the dream to teach is new.

Huntley native Samantha Panek, a percussionist, originally planned on a career in music. Thinking about her own years in middle school, however, convinced her of another path as an English teacher.

“Middle school is when kids are going through puberty and hard times. In middle school, I was still figuring myself out. I was kind of a quiet loner kid, but when I hit eighth-grade, I made friends. I had teachers who were supportive of me, and that I would talk to every day,” says Panek, a Middle Level Teaching and Learning major.

Now, Panek says, “I want to be that role model for students. I want to be one of the people they come to when they need to talk. I want to make sure they come to me when they need help.”

Others cite a personal connection.

Lauren Brooks, a Special Education-Learning Behavior Specialist I major, is a cousin to a young woman with special needs.

“I just want to give kids an opportunity to succeed and to take their learning seriously,” says Brooks, who is from Aurora.

“They have tons of opportunities and potential, and I want to open their eyes to that and give them those opportunities. I’ve seen how my cousin has been kind of limited because of that, and how people treat her because of that, and I want to change that.”

Margee Myles chats with (from left) Adina Buetow, Cameron Clark and Lauren Brooks.

Margee Myles chats with (from left) Adina Buetow, Cameron Clark and Lauren Brooks.


Emily Wines
, also a Special Education-Learning Behavior Specialist I major, discovered her calling thanks to an inclusive Physical Education program built on open minds and big hearts.

“When I was in high school, we had a combined P.E. class, and this one girl I was paired with came every day with a smile,” says Wines, from Ladd, Ill.

Her former classmate has Down syndrome and hearing issues, Wines says. “She inspired me,” says Wines, who plans to focus on severe disabilities as opposed to learning disabilities. “If she can do this every single day with a smile on her face, I want to do anything I can do to help.”

These five future teachers are among the 2017-18 class of Dean’s Achievement Scholarship recipients in the NIU College of Education.

Chosen for stellar academic performance in high school, each receives a $2,000 scholarship for the 2017-18 academic year with the possibility of renewal for the next year based on grade point average.

das-1

David Walker learns more about Adina Buetow (left).

Rounding out the group are, from the Department of Special and Early Education, Adina Buetow (Vision Impairments), Cameron Clark (Learning Behavior Specialist I), Lisbet Firman (pre-Early Childhood Studies) and Abby Howard (pre-Early Childhood Studies).

Other scholarship recipients, from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, are Alivia Hansen (Elementary Education-Reading), Tirza Lisle (Elementary Education), Hailey Pezdek (pre-Elementary Education), Alexis Safstrom (pre-Elementary Education) and Peytonn Weaver (pre-Elementary Education).

The scholars met Sept. 12 with Dean Laurie-Elish Piper, associate deans Bill Pitney and David Walker and leadership from three academic departments and College of Education Student Services.

“You are the top new incoming freshmen,” Kristin Rinehart, coordinator of Recruitment for College of Education Student Services, told the group. “You’re at the top of the list.”

Margee Myles, director of College of Education Student Services, then raised the bar: “We truly are expecting great things from all of you.”

From Elish-Piper and the associate deans, the freshmen heard about the need to enhance their experience outside the classroom through the college’s Educate and Engage Program, the University Honors Program, undergraduate research and student organizations.

Peytonn Weaver (left) and Halley Fogerty

Peytonn Weaver (left) and Halley Fogerty

Beyond the networking and leadership development opportunities, Elish-Piper told the students, embracing all the college has to offer will enable them to grow as individuals as they gain more experience, more qualifications and more confidence.

“We know that you are all academic superstars,” Elish-Piper said, “and you have made a fabulous choice in NIU.”

Brooks, like the others, calls herself honored, surprised and grateful to receive a scholarship.

“I feel a lot of doors opened for me. I feel I have a better connection with the College of Education now,” she says. “I really want to try my hardest to get good grades all of my semesters here.”



Elementary Ed major honored for internship in Streamwood

Kelsi Spain

Kelsi Spain

Kelsi Spain began her college career studying business, but she soon realized that her heart longed instead to major in Elementary Education.

“I don’t want just to teach academic subjects,” says Spain, an NIU College of Education senior from Pingree Grove, Ill. “I want to change my students’ lives.”

Spain is already doing exactly that.

During her professional teaching placement semester this spring, she spent half of her time in an elementary school classroom and the rest of her hours as an AVID tutor in U-46’s Streamwood High School.

The AVID program encourages teachers not to simply feed facts but to empower students to learn on their own, a method she followed while tutoring high school students in whatever topics or homework they brought with them.

“We kind of guide our students through collaborating together so they can figure it out for themselves,” Spain says. “I’m just there to facilitate, and if they’re really stuck, I’ll step in.”

Although she plans to teach in the elementary grades, she is confident that her immersion in AVID has prepared her to provide “a unique, challenging and engaging education” to her future students: “The two worlds are not so different.”

Her exemplary work, which she continued daily even after NIU’s semester ended May 12, has resulted in an “Intern of the Month” award for Spring 2017 from NIU Career Services. Seven recipients are chosen throughout the calendar year; three of those will receive Intern of the Year scholarships.

spain-kelsi-2She is excited for the distinction but more grateful for the opportunities to practice her teaching.

“You get to see those students every day, and it’s amazing to see how they change. They’re about to embark on this next chapter of their lives – and, with me being a college student, I can give them that first-hand experience,” she says.

“Being in the classroom with students so close to me in age gave me a confidence boost to recognize that I can be viewed as a young professional,” she adds, “and that I have what it takes to relate to students of all ages.”

Jennifer Johnson, director of Teacher Preparation and Development for the College of Education, supported Spain’s application. Johnson has observed Spain’s “professionalism and leadership in multiple contexts and settings.”

“Ms. Spain has been characterized by her integrity, dependability and strong interpersonal skills,” Johnson wrote. “I am confident that she will continue to excel at meeting the academic expectations of her coursework while making meaningful contributions to the campus community and in our partner school districts.”

Patricia Maynard, AVID coordinator at Streamwood High School, also endorsed Spain’s work.

“Kelsi did a great job in providing the structure and facilitating the questioning that goes with this type of tutorial process. It helps to have a strong base knowledge in difficult subject areas – i.e., calculus, trigonometry and physics – and Kelsi had that,” Maynard wrote.

“There is also an expectation that our college students act as role models for our students. Again, Kelsi’s ability to connect to her students was an asset,” she continued. “I think she will do a great job as an educator- she has the right combination of intelligence, confidence and attitude.”



Social Justice Summer Camp offers educators ideas to reach students in ‘a different way’

sjsc-5Long lines in the lunchroom. Climbing the gymnasium rope. Nagging parents. The quadratic formula.

Anxieties like these are the stuff of high school.

For LGBTQ teens, though, they take a backseat to the issues of sexual orientation.

Changing clothes not in a locker room but in a nurse’s office on the other side of the building, a welcome accommodation that also comes with isolation. Never knowing whom to trust with their feelings. Bullying not just from classmates but also from fathers who threaten disownment and siblings who heartlessly mock them and their friends.

Such overwhelming concerns can impede learning; require understanding and sensitivity from teachers, most of whom probably can’t relate. Students from diverse ethnic and racial populations, also confronted by generations of oppression, equally yearn for that kind of support. Again, it’s often in vain.

But K-12 teachers and other educators from DeKalb and Elgin who attended June’s inaugural Social Justice Summer Camp at the NIU College of Education will return to their classrooms and schools this fall with eyes wide open to students from diverse and historically marginalized backgrounds.

That progress starts with the recognition that educational disparities exist although they likely are invisible to those not impacted.

sjsc-3

Campers talk after a LGBTQ panel discussion.

Joseph Flynn, a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and one of the camp’s organizers, said the participants had “a wonderful time, intellectually and socially.”

“People left on a high note, invigorated to get back to their schools and districts and to get to work. Some were talking about addressing the climate within their schools. Some were looking at specific policies as well as the practices and curriculum in general,” Flynn said.

“Overall, the comments we had from campers were largely positive,” he added. “That doesn’t mean that some folks didn’t struggle with some of the issues, and we anticipated that. Learning about issues of oppression in all forms can be challenging because it’s speaking against the status quo.”

NIU’s camp, organized by Flynn and colleagues James Cohen and Mike Manderino, the three-day camp featured keynote speakers, panel discussions, film screenings, experiential activities, reflective conversations and the development of social justice action plans for schools.

Themes of the days included “Building from the Beginning: Understanding Multicultural and Social Justice Education Historically and Currently,” “Pieces of a Whole: Recognizing the Relationships among Systems, the Collective and the Individual” and “Now What? Considerations on the Practice of Social Justice Education.”

Mike Manderino

Mike Manderino

History lessons of how various forms of oppression emerged, along with the thought-provoking content of the films, spawned many side discussions.

“The film series was especially powerful,” Flynn said. “We would finish a film, and an hour of conversation would go by – and we still weren’t done talking.”

During a June 13 panel discussion featuring three DeKalb High School students who are LGBTQ, however, the language was plain and the message clear.

“We’re just trying to make it through, like the rest of you,” one teenager said to the audience. “School should not be a place you fear or dislike.”

Members of the audience, meanwhile, were able to walk in someone else’s shoes.

The three students spoke of bullying in the hallways, observing that teachers often “won’t step in until it gets physical and someone gets hurt.” They talked of academic lessons illustrated only with “white, hetero families” and history curriculum that ignores the contributions of LGBTQ individuals. They discussed sexual education that covers sex and abstinence but not asexuality.

They expressed hurt over hearing the attendance called with their birth names and of being addressed by the wrong pronouns – situations that are not only uncomfortable but also potentially dangerous if the teachers inadvertently “out” students.

Yet they also smiled camaraderie available through school, especially when groups such DeKalb High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance are active. Meeting other LBGTQ students means “I’m not broken,” one said. “There is nothing wrong or strange about this, and I don’t have to be ashamed. This is something other people have experienced. I’m not alone.”

sjsc-1

James Cohen (left) was one of the camp’s organizers.

Educators in the room stood and applauded.

“I’m in awe of your courage,” one told the panel. “Thank you for being who you are.”

The teens also provided advice for the teachers who might have LGBTQ students – or parents – in their classrooms.

  • “Normalize your curriculum.”
  • “Give students someone to talk to. Let your students know you are available and open to them. If a student comes to you and tells you about their parents not accepting them, be there for them.”
  • “Respect every one for who they are – or who they want to be.”

Andria Mitchell, principal of DeKalb’s Tyler Elementary School, came to the Social Justice Summer Camp to reinforce the work of District 428’s diversity planning.

“This has been an amazing experience,” Mitchell said.

“It has been liberating and emotionally draining. It’s been an eye-opener with big moments of aha. I even had to catch myself a couple times, and say, ‘Oh! I have that bias,’ or, ‘I’ve never thought of it that way.’ ”

Mitchell believes teachers must respect diversity with the same level of importance they assign to knowledge and content.

“When you’re able to have this social justice lens, along with the latest knowledge, you reach your students in a different way,” she said, “and you reach all of your students.”

Jackie Jagielski, a sixth-grade gifted program teacher at Glenbrook Elementary School in U-46, wants to ensure that all children are provided with “opportunities to use their voices” and safe spaces.

sjsc-4

Campers came from the DeKalb and Elgin school districts.

NIU’s camp offered “concrete ways” to do just that, she said.

“I’ve always had an interest in social justice issues, particularly now in the political climate we find ourselves in. It’s harder for people to find common ground,” Jagielski said. “We need to celebrate and humanize all of our students, regardless of their backgrounds and in all the ways that they can be diverse.”

Roy Kim, a social worker in District 428, appreciated the camp’s “wealth of historical context” and “hearing the experiences of the other attendees.”

“Social justice is half of my job description,” he said. “Nothing could be more relevant for me in doing my job effectively.”

Ana Arroyo is principal of Elgin’s Parkwood Elementary School, a Title I school where 90 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Most are Hispanic.

She attended NIU’s camp to help her teachers advance their “understanding of where our children are coming from,” something already in progress. Parkwood, nominated for PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) “Gold” recognition, is one of the Top 5 safest schools in U-46.

“I’m planning to deliver professional development to my staff on teaching to our population. It’s about listening to students, and giving students a platform to speak, share and engage in their learning,” Arroyo said. “If we can impact change at such an early level, that’s going to continue through middle school and high school.”