That wish came true for Neidel and 265 of her classmates April 21 as they spent five hours at Anderson Hall banging drumsticks, shooting arrows at balloons, practicing martial arts, line-dancing, playing disability sports, testing fitness levels, trying their hand at yoga and parkour and even developing empathy skills.
“Just a second ago, we were in wheelchairs, which was kind of scary – but the basketball part made it cooler,” said eighth-grader Neidel, 14. “I think this is really fun. We’re getting to try a lot of cool activities.”
“We also ran agility courses to see how high we can jump, how fast we can run – and we’re competing against our friends,” added Ella Boyer, 13, also in eighth-grade. “It’s cool to see what you can do.”
About three dozen KNPE faculty members and students volunteered to run the 10 stations.
“NIU has a professional development school relationship with Clinton Rosette. Our students do secondary clinicals and teaching at the school,” said Kim, who likes watching the “action and excitement” between professors, college students and middle-schoolers.
Clinton Rosette students also enjoy an aspirational opportunity to visit the NIU campus, explore one of its buildings and interact with college students, she added, while they participate in some physical activities outside of the typical middle school curriculum.
For Jen Montavon, a P.E. teacher at Clinton Rosette, the annual trip allows her to dangle a carrot in front of her students. They must earn their places by being dressed and on time for class each day, following directions and participating in at least 80 percent of activities.
“It gets our kids out of the building, and it gives them some incentive. These are the kids who made it all year long,” said Montavon, who earned her NIU bachelor’s degree in Physical Education in 1996 and completed a master’s in Adapted Physical Education here in 2008.
Bringing “the best of the best” also allows those students to focus on physical activities and fun rather than waiting while the teachers discipline less-behaved students, she added. Some of the children who come to Anderson Hall are quiet by nature, she said, and maybe missing out.
“It’s good to see those kids come here and shine in a different light,” Montavon said “and this is a P.E. teacher’s dream. The kids are all here doing different activities and having fun. How many kids are going to sit in a wheelchair and play basketball? To have these opportunities is amazing, and I’m really grateful to the KNPE department.”
Montavon also is a bit envious of the current KNPE students.
“We didn’t do this when I went through the program, but I wish I could have,” she said. “It’s really kind of a good step for them. In teacher preparation, they’re usually teaching their peers. Now they’re working with middle-schoolers who are the best of the best. It’s a good stepping stone.”
“This is awesome,” Flicek said, taking a quick break from KNPE instructor Gail Koehling’s “drum fitness” activity. “I love how all of the kids get to be a part of our program, and it’s fun to interact with the kids. It helps you to get a lot of experience with students, to interact with them at different levels and realize that every student is different.”
Sean Carpen, a junior P.E. major, volunteered to earn extra credit. Within an hour, however, he no longer cared about boosting his grade.
“It’s a great experience for the kids, and it’s a great experience for us in learning how to teach the kids and assist them,” said Carpen, who spent his day at the archery activity. “This is hands-on experience. This allows you to connect. It gives you practice. I just love working with the kids.”
Carpen, who was motivated to pursue career thanks to an excellent P.E. teacher in high school, also found affirmation of his abilities. Before April 21, the native of Oak Lawn had never instructed anyone in the bow-and-arrow.
“This is great for me,” he said, “because now I know I can teach it.”
Corina Salinas played sports in high school and college, including track and water polo.
“With any athlete, you’re always going to be in some sort of pain. It just depends on your perception of that pain,” says Salinas, a fifth-year senior from the South Side of Chicago. “That always intrigued me. Every human being has a different perception of pain, and a different level of pain. I wanted to learn more.”
Katherine Kendall had her eyes on a career in nursing. She took all the right courses at Illinois Valley College and worked as a CNA in a local nursing home and hospital, but soon discovered “something missing.”
“It didn’t fit me,” says Kendall, a senior from Mendota, Ill. “I shadowed everyone in the physical therapy department, and I instantly connected with the athletic trainers and the goals they set for their profession. I completely fell in love with athletic training from then on.”
Other Lela Trager recipients this year are Hillary Allton, Katie Dyke, Samantha Galicia, Karlie Grove, Brianna Kraft, Ariel Russell, Laura Tuma and Mary Welch. Total scholarship dollars awarded to KNPE students this year exceed $75,000.
“We are blessed to have many donors to KNPE who are so generous with their financial support,” department chair Chad McEvoy says. “These gifts are truly impactful in assisting our high-quality students and their families in their ability to pay for school.”
For Salinas, the Lela Trager has allowed her to quit half of her part-time jobs.
“I used to have four on-campus jobs, working day and night. I woke up early to open the pool, and I worked late at night to close the front desk,” Salinas says.
“Now I have only two jobs, which has opened up time for studying and made a difference in my homework and exams. I also have more time for myself to stay physically active, and I’m actually staying sane because I’m getting more sleep.”
The native Spanish speaker, who transferred to NIU from Monmouth College, hopes to work on the athletic training team at NASA.
“I’m really reaching for the stars,” she says. “It’s just fascinating to me how astronauts come back inches taller, and can’t go on with their daily activities because of the gravitational pull. For them to live their lives without any struggles, it’s very important for us to understand how outer space modifies their bodies.”
She believes the program is preparing her well.
“There’s just a lot thrown at you as a student. No matter what, I’m always learning something – in clinicals, in class, in labs. Everywhere I turn, there’s always an opportunity to learn something new, and that’s the beauty of it all,” she says.
“Professionalism is a huge part of athletic training, and they’re really good at portraying that to us,” she adds. “We’re representing ourselves as professionals in the field. We’re representing NIU, the program we’re in and athletic trainers all over the world. We don’t train people on exercise. We help people therapeutically and rehabilitate them.”
Meanwhile, she’s found confidence to step out of her comfort zone.
“A go-getter is what people call me nowadays,” Salinas says. “I’m going after what I love, and being passionate about what I want.”
For Kendall, who also received $1,000 from the college-awarded EXCEL (Extending College of Education Learning) Fund, simply talking about the impact of scholarships stirs raw emotions.
“Honestly, these are the first scholarships I’ve ever won, and I even cried a little bit. I was absolutely ecstatic to see those acceptance letters,” she says.
“I was able to take less of a workload – last semester, I was working four jobs and going to school full time. It was a very hard struggle for me,” she adds. “With the scholarships, I’m really able to make my last semester of academic classes go by so much smoother.”
Kendall’s recent clinical site – the NIU Huskies football team – was an exciting one.
“I absolutely love the atmosphere,” she says. “I definitely can see myself doing that in the future, maybe at a Division I college. I don’t want to limit myself to football, but I do enjoy the high volume of work.”
She’s also considering graduate school and even a civilian career in athletic training for the U.S. military. An internship at a U.S. Naval base in North Carolina this semester is offering her a glimpse at that career, which is an emerging field away from the sports field.
No matter what direction she chooses, she is confident in the preparation the NIU College of Education is providing.
“One of the top qualities in not just the athletic training program, but in the KNPE department in general, is that you can go to any professor or instructor and say, ‘Hey, I really need help with this,’ and they’re always happy to help you,” she says. “They’re really motivated to get you on the path you want to go.”
Daily lessons turn quickly into applied knowledge, she adds.
After the first semester of observing athletic trainers at work, she says, “the great thing about the AT program is that, with all the classes you take, you’re also set into a clinical rotation.”
“Everything you’re learning in the classroom you’re able to experience hands-on at your clinical site, whether it’s lower extremity that second semester, applying those special tests or performing those evals,” she says, “or fourth semester, taking general medicine, looking at different medications and listening to heart and lung sounds.”
Preceptors at clinical sites offer more perspective.
“You can take what you’re learning in your lectures and say, ‘Hey, we learned this. How does this work? How do you use this in your day-to-day life?’ I’m seeing that everything applicable to my future as a certified athletic trainer, and literally everything that I learn is applied into my daily work at the clinical setting.”
Chad McEvoy, Abigail Omerza and Yoshi Takei
KNPE Scholarship Recipients
Lela Trager Scholarship ($5,000) 2016-17: Hillary Allton, Katie Dyke, Samantha Galicia, Karlie Grove, Katherine Kendall, Brianna Kraft, Ariel Russell, Corina Salinas, Laura Tuma, Mary Welch 2017-18: Kaitlin Allen, Hillary Allton, Jazmyn Anderson, Carissa Atiles, Mary Bailey, Jade Gray, Grace Harris, Ashley Horn, Kelsey Knake, Brianna Kraft, Sarah Llort, Christina Pitts, Maria Reyes, Ariel Russell, Corina Salinas, Emily Siekiersi, Kristina Wenk
Tim Gullikson Education Memorial Scholarship ($3,510, awarded by the college) 2016-17: Richard Snedeker 2017-18: Craig Kelly, Annie Malecki
Bright sun peeked through mist and bare trees just after 10 a.m. on a late February day as the first hints of record warmth boldly unleashed an early spring.
For two groups of students – one made up of 20 fifth-graders from Aurora’s Krug Elementary School, the other composed of 10 Physical Education majors from the NIU College of Education – the appointment with nature couldn’t have come at a better time.
Within a few hours, the skies gave way to flawless blue while the mercury soared past 70 degrees. Birds chirped. Chainsaws growled. Neither a snowflake nor a chilly wind – usually facts of life in a Midwestern February – could be found.
This trip to NIU’s Lorado Taft Field Campus, an outdoor education center located within Lowden State Park in Oregon, Ill., truly offered the perfect conditions for teaching and learning for young children and young adults alike.
NIU Physical Education major Brandon Palmer helps fifth-grader Yvonne Chanda learn how to start a fire.
“It’s just the best experience for our NIU students,” says Gail Koehling, an instructor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. “I hear from them, ‘This week really showed me why I want to be a teacher.’ They’ve had this more than 48 hours of working with these groups of children, and it really validates for them why they’ve chosen this career.”
As future P.E. teachers, Koehling says, the students are adding a priceless distinction to their resumes.
“One the major things they learn during this class is, ‘I’m teaching something that is brand new to me. This shows what a great teacher I can be. You can give me anything – any content – and I can teach it. It doesn’t have to be the thing I’ve done all my life,’ ” she says. “These students are ready and prepared to go out and teach any content you can give them.”
Kelly Miotti, a senior P.E. major from Lockport, made progress at Taft toward her goal to “change people’s lives.”
“I’m learning to be able to talk to students. I’m learning to be more calm,” Miotti says. “The skill that you learn at Taft is basically learning how to keep kids involved for three days straight – and that you have to adapt to every situation. You have to go with the changes.”
Nick Wiltsie helps fifth-grader Angelina Sifuentes with her compass.
“Coming out here, you’re testing more than content knowledge,” adds classmate Nick Wiltsie, a senior P.E. major from Elgin.
“You’re testing confidence levels, resilience levels, character-building skills. Their personal character is begin challenged throughout this experience, and so as a teacher myself, I’m able to take notes to help them become a better individual in the future.”
NIU’s students made an initial visit to Taft about 20 days earlier, during Super Bowl weekend, when they took on the roles of the fifth-graders.
Guided by Taft’s professional and enthusiastic staff, the future P.E. teachers explored the beautiful woods while they learned about orienteering, pioneering, birding, forest ecology, survival and Native Americans. They took night hikes through the darkness, played outside games and performed campfire skits about nature.
Most importantly, though, they saw the outdoor education modeled for them while they planned their own delivery of those same lessons.
Such skills were clearly on display when the children from Krug arrived at Taft, which Koehling calls “a hidden gem.”
After whooping up a rousing welcome for the fifth-graders, the Huskies quickly escorted the boys and girls and their backpacks to the cabins for bunk selection and unpacking.
Kelly Miotti works with Angelina Sifuentes.
Formal introductions followed – the P.E. majors gave their names, revealed their favorite colors and ice cream flavors and demonstrated their favorite dance moves – as did theatrical presentations of the basic rules: Be on time. Dress for the weather. Respect property, others, nature and yourself. Walk. Stay with an adult.
Quick tours of the grounds led to the dining hall, where the campers and their temporary teachers shared lunch, their first of seven meals together.
By 1 p.m., the real outdoor education had begun.
Miotti, Wiltsie and fellow P.E. major Brandon Palmer marched their quintet of fifth-graders to a large field. They opened their lesson on Native Americans with a poll of the favorite family activities of the children – answers included charades, hide and seek, Uno and dancing – and questions about what the children learned from those things.
“Just like you play games with your family, the Native Americans also played games,” Palmer told the group. And, he added, they learned and sharpened hunting skills amid the fun time of bonding.
Dusk falls over the Rock River at Lorado Taft.
The children then were taught a different way to play tag, one where the tap had to come behind the knee. A player tagged could remain in the game by hopping around on the untagged leg; if that hopping leg also was touched the player still wasn’t “out,” but had to sit on the grass.
After a few rounds, the NIU students asked their campers what they had learned about hunting from playing the game. Be agile, quick and strategic. Stay low. Keep your hands out. Swivel. Face the other players. Don’t let your opponents strike from behind.
Questions about hunting continued with Fox Walking, a game where one child was blindfolded while her classmates tried to sneak up and steal a stick placed at her feet. The child without sight had to rely on other senses to point in the direction of the would-be stick-stealer.
What senses do the prey use? What are some ways that foxes creep up without being detected? How can being slow, steady and quiet apply to rummaging for food? How can we think like a fox?
Krug children also hurled spears and sticks at empty laundry soap jugs standing in for animals – What were some of the struggles you had while throwing? – and then worked to make fire by rubbing rope against wood. No matter their effort and sweat, unfortunately, the labor produced little more than some warmth in the stick.
Just think, Palmer told the children: Native Americans needed to make fire in this way every time they wanted to cook food or to stay warm – and imagine how lucky we are to simply flip switches.
Lessons in using a compass came next. Children received a crash course in moving the housing and reading the needle before walking around the field in directions dictated in degrees. Later, they worked in groups to tromp through dense woods in search of orange-and-white posts that would disclose the bearings to the next checkpoint.
Success wasn’t easy; many footsteps were retraced and then retried after the compasses weren’t set properly.
“A little change makes a big difference. It’s not only in orienteering. It’s in life, too,” Miotti told the children, then turning to her NIU classmates with a smile. “Yep. I went there.”
During the walk back to the cabins, she offered more wisdom to the girls. “Ladies, we need to talk about respecting ourselves and others,” she said. “Your attitude will reflect your time here.”
And, naturally, this: “It’s OK if we make mistakes. You learn from every mistake you make.”
“I just kept motivating them,” Miotti says.
Wiltsie watches as fifth-graders Cindy Garcia (center) and Bella Davila try to make fire with rope and stick.
“This is so real-life,” Koehling says. “This gets them to step up and be the teacher they are – the teacher they’re becoming. They learn about classroom management; about teaching multicultural students; about always being ready to work with other people within your school, whether they’re teaching on non-teaching staff.”
NIU’s course in outdoor education, designed and originally taught by Jenny Parker, an associate professor of P.E. teacher education and now NIU’s acting associate vice provost for Educator Licensure and Preparation, prepares students to teach independently and in teams.
They get the chance to teach curriculum typically not found in the gym, including history and science, along with experience in chaperoning field trips.
“Peaks and Pits” debriefing sessions each afternoon allow them to swap stories of what went right and what could improve with change. It’s important for these almost-teachers to make each other look “golden” in front of the fifth-graders, Koehling says, and it’s already working.
“Our kids are so sweet,” one NIU student shared with the group. “They told us, ‘You’re going to be great teachers.’ ”
For Koehling, who fell in love with this outdoor education course years ago when Parker invited her to Taft to watch for a day, these professional conversations among her students are a joy.
She’s also a passionate participant in the Taft experience.
During the early February weekend, she taught her students the nighttime “Alpha Wolf” game, a non-aquatic version of Marco Polo with howling and jump ropes. No need to keep eyes closed in the pitch-black darkness of a state park.
Koehling also demonstrated to her flock a daytime game that explores survival instincts and the food chain. Players represent herbivores, carnivores and omnivores working to prey on each other – eating down the food chain, or course – while trying to avoid the hunter in search of dinner.
“I’m the hunter,” she says. “We run around like crazy, and I show them how fun this can be.”
Not surprisingly, Koehling hopes to see the outdoor education course expand beyond KNPE to other NIU teacher licensure programs. She also hopes to bring KNPE 200 students to Taft for team-building exercises.
“I just had a former student say to me, ‘I got my principal to OK a trip to Taft for the spring.’ My students know what this experience was like for them, and what this experience was like for these children who get to learn outside of a classroom and away from a desk,” she says. “We’re getting these students outdoors, away from technology and actually moving around.”
Meanwhile, her students are enjoying independence in their teaching for perhaps the first time. They’re being pushed out of their comfort zone, and they’re growing in their confidence and abilities with every happy exclamation from the fifth-graders.
And, even though they’re with the children constantly for three days and two nights, “it’s not about that.”
Wooden stairs meander along a Lorado Taft hill.
“It’s about all the other pieces that you need to know about as a caring, loving teacher,” Koehling says. “On Friday, when they leave, the students will be crying, and sometimes, my students are crying. The nurturing piece is what I hope they will take with them.”
Wiltsie, who spent four years in the U.S. Army Reserves during his time at NIU, understands. He wants to teach younger generations to become lifelong learners who are physically active while making the most of the gifts and skills they possess.
“If students feel comfortable out here, they’ll definitely feel comfortable back in a gym,” he says. “And if you feel comfortable teaching out here, you can definitely translate that over to the gym setting and the school setting – and be more confident in yourself.”
“I just want to be there to make a difference, even if it’s just one student at a time,” Miotti adds. “(In) physical education, I know that I’ll be able to improve children’s lives by the hundreds.”
“Wen’s area of expertise is outdoor education – we have some common interests in those areas – and he’s here to explore other approaches to teaching and developing curricula in outdoor education,” Ressler says. “We don’t have an outdoor education class, per se, but we do have an adventure education class (KNPE 365) that he regularly attended.”
“NIU has a good research atmosphere,” Xia says, “and I am interested in research direction, a good research team and selfless and useful research support system. I learned a more-advanced administrative system, and cultures and methods of research and teaching at NIU.”
Ressler and Xia connected through the Internet.
“He had a colleague from Yunnan here as a visiting scholar during the last academic year. He did some web-searching, found our program and my profile and, at the time, noticed one of my interests was outdoor education,” Ressler says.
“I have some strong connections with colleagues at other university in the United States that do teach in more-traditional outdoor education programs,” he adds. “We’ve spoken with them, and used some of their materials as sources, to help us mold two new courses that Wen is proposing to his university.”
Voracious in his reading and journaling, Xia devoured “Effective Leadership in Adventure Programming” by Simon Priest and Michael A. Gass, “Outdoor Adventure Education” by Alan W. Egert and Jim Sibthrop, and “Motor Control and Learning” by Richard A. Magill.
He designed two outdoor education courses. He joined NIU experts, community leaders and visiting scholars for a panel discussion on outdoor education and adventure-based counseling. He observed NIU classes in Exercise and Sport Psychology, regularly attended NIU Athletics events and enjoyed numerous activities in DeKalb in Sycamore.
Ressler and Xia also co-authored a research paper on a water safety education program with data Xia had gathered previously, “but he wanted to write it in English.”
Language presented a barrier at first, Ressler says, but the two worked diligently in the beginning to overcome it.
In the interim, the American learned a great deal from his visitor.
“He is a really nice man, very kind and generous, and extremely committed to his family and his profession,” Ressler says.
“His wife is an elementary school teacher in China, and she stayed behind. He brought their 11-year-old daughter with him because he wanted to provide additional opportunities for her. She went to Jefferson Elementary School last year and Huntley Middle School this year.”
Professionally, Ressler says, “the experience as a whole was wonderful for me to see how Outdoor and Adventure programming is delivered in other countries and other contexts.”
“I’m fascinated by the structure and expectations of his courses – and how students are engaged and assessed. They seem to have many more grad students deployed to support delivery of the courses,” Ressler says. “I’m hopeful we can continue to collaborate, maybe through an exchange of grad students, continued writing projects and curriculum development.”
Now that Xia is home, he is already sharing what he learned here. “I am preaching my experience and knowledge to my university leaders, colleagues and students,” Xia says, “and I will actively create opportunities for them to visit and communicate to NIU.”
Musa Selimi, right, dean of faculty of Physical Education and Sport at Prishtina University in Kosovo, joins NIU College of Education Dean Laurie Elish-Piper and Chad McEvoy, chair of the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.
“The rector has a sports background – he was a competitive wrestler and is still an avid athlete – so, when I got a call out of the blue a year or so ago asking if would have an interest, I said, ‘Yes, of course,’ ” said McEvoy, chair of the department in the NIU College of Education.
“KNPE does not have an extensive history or background in these types of international collaborations,” he added. “This allows us to become more visible globally and to participate in discussions about best practices, and teaching and scholarship in kinesiology fields, on a global platform.”
McEvoy used the center as a springboard last May when he delivered a keynote address during the International Balkan Conference in Sport Sciences hosted by NIU and Tetovo.
“I wanted to connect the dots with our partnership,” he said. “The Center for Peace was coming, and I spoke specifically on how sport can be a platform for peace and development. I was able to connect those things, and we had a good conversation.”
Selimi chats with KNPE faculty.
His words reached the ears of two participants from Kosovo’s Prishtina University – and, last semester, Musa Selimi, dean of faculty of Physical Education and Sport, and Shqipe Bajcinca, vice dean of faculty of Physical Education and Sport, paid a visit to DeKalb.
Because physical education is the core element of Prishtina’s program, McEvoy said, the two administrators wanted to know more about NIU’s comprehensive approach.
During their three days in October, Selimi and Bajcinca met with Dean Laurie Elish-Piper and the college senate, spent time with College of Education faculty, visited KNPE classes and toured the department’s academic and athletic facilities.
Selimi also signed a Memorandum of Understanding between Prishtina and NIU to keep the new partnership alive and growing, McEvoy said.
“It’s been quite informative for our faculty to see that kinesiology and sports can be a tool for social good. Kosovo and Macedonia have been through political and military challenges in recent decades, and sport, physical education and kinesiology can be a way to build bridges,” he said.
Some programs in the Balkan region – Prishtina’s, for example – resemble how U.S. units “might have looked a quarter-century ago,” he added.
“They tend to have a strong involvement with PE and coaching,” McEvoy said, “while some of the program areas in research that we have developed, in areas such as exercise physiology, biomechanics and athletic training, are not as advanced as they tend to be here in the United States.”
Three years. Twenty-seven organizations. One hundred and twenty-one coaches, teachers and youth workers trained – 13 of them traveling to the United States for that preparation, partly delivered by three NIU students. Fifteen hundred youth enrolled in summer programs. Three thousand youth in school programs.
“I have been amazed and so grateful to the people who have contributed to making this project a success,” says Wright, a professor in the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. “It’s been about collaboration and teamwork, and the talent, commitment and complementary skills of the U.S. team was matched by our Belizean partners.”
He will evaluate “a novel approach to teacher education” offered to the country’s universities by the Ministry of Education. Twelve applied; seven – including Victoria – were accepted.
“The student-teacher is immersed in the school site for an entire year – from February to December,” Ressler says. “The first half of the experience is two or three days each week in the schools, and the other days are occupied with university coursework informing their placement. In some cases, the school sites host university courses.”
Even more interesting, he adds, is that “the Ministry of Education has supplemented this national shift with stipends for mentor-teachers in the schools. In the United States, that would be the equivalent of paying cooperating teachers to host our student teachers.”
“Barrie and I have very strong overlap in our research interests, and since his Fulbright, I visited him in New Zealand in early 2015 to scope out the possibility of proposing this sabbatical,” he says. “I initiated some relationships with local schools and kept in touch, and Barrie assured me we could get access to the sites we visited to be able to investigate both the policy and the practice of what it looks like.”
In addition to a series of school visits, Ressler will interview mentor-teachers – he’s already conducting some interviews via Skype – as well as with key personnel in the Ministry of Education, school administrators and university leaders.
He hopes to apply his findings to NIU, where many of his experiences “have been keyed by strong school-university partnerships, notably with the schools in which our programs hold practicums.”
As a liaison with DeKalb Community School District 428 elementary and middle schools, he has become more adept with the changing needs of students, teachers and schools across all content areas in the district. In some cases, the needs can be met with strengths of the university and teacher preparation program.
“We’re making sure those school-university ties are strong,” he says, “meeting outcomes that are most important to the school and to the university, such as higher expectations for student achievement in and out of the classroom, developing rigorous curricula, superior teacher preparation practices, professional learning and joint research.”
New Zealand has “similar aims, but much different routes to get there,” he adds.
“What’s impressive to me, being well aware that New Zealand is a small country, is how much of an imprint the Ministry of Education holds on a national level for these university program offerings,” Ressler says.
“Coming out with initial teacher licensure at the graduate level is, in their eyes, raising the bar for what an incoming teacher has for content knowledge,” he adds. “Those types of candidates are coveted, whereas in our current climate in Illinois and the United States with public education, those candidates might be priced out of a job.”
Three NIU College of Education graduates stepped in the spotlight last weekend during the fall commencement ceremonies.
President Doug Baker told the audience at Sunday’s 2 p.m. ceremony about Luis Hernandez, a graduate from Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.
During Saturday’s Graduate School ceremony, the president spoke about Kaneez Fatima and Sadia Qamar, who earned master’s degrees in Early Childhood Studies.
Here are President Baker’s comments.
Luis Hernandez sees the world differently than most – and in more ways than one.
Talk to him and you’ll hear about the infinite complexities of everything around us. Of questions for which there are currently no answers. Of the lack of enough lifetimes to understand, or even solve, just a fraction of the puzzles of the universe.
Or the endless possibilities to unlock some of these solutions through simply improving mathematical literacy.
“It’s mindboggling,” Luis says, “how complicated reality is.”
He graduates today with a degree in kinesiology, a fascinating field that drew him in through its beautiful combination of sciences and disciplines.
To many, it’s all about exercise. To Luis, though, it’s math. It’s physics. It’s biology, chemistry and even philosophy.
Raised in Chicago Heights since fourth-grade, Luis has spent his time at NIU nurturing a deep passion for research.
Working with dollars provided by our undergraduate research programs, he’s completed two projects, he has another in progress – and he has appreciated the autonomy provided by faculty mentors.
One study explored lower-body strength. The other examined how video game-based exercise can improve balance and reduce falls in the elderly. Now he’s looking into possible benefits of working out more often than generally recommended.
Next month, Luis begins courses in the College of Education’s graduate program in Exercise Physiology and Fitness Leadership on his path toward a doctorate and work in research or higher education.
That decision keeps him among faculty who know and respect him – and on familiar ground, something important for Luis, who is visually impaired.
Born with no sight in his right eye and an underdeveloped optic nerve in his left eye, he is legally blind though he can still “see” to a limited degree. He’s never considered it a deficit, though, because he’s never experienced “normal” visual acuity.
Luis relies on other senses, including hearing and touch, to maneuver his surroundings and expand his mind. You also might spot him using the camera on his phone to zoom in on the chalkboard.
Congratulations, Luis! I’m excited to glimpse our vivid tomorrows through your eyes.
Sadia Qamar and Kaneez Fatima
and Sadia Qamar
For Kaneez Fatima and Sadia Qamar, the walk across this stage today is paved with self-awareness, passion, commitment and courage.
As trainers of teachers in their native Pakistan – and as talented and devoted teachers themselves – Kaneez and Sadia realized that to make a greater impact on elementary education in their homeland, they needed to enhance their knowledge.
They dedicated themselves to securing that opportunity, and beat out thousands of applicants to secure two of only 27 scholarship offered by the United States Agency for International Development.
They applied themselves relentlessly. They completed six months of English training in half that time; they attended every day of their College of Education classes; they not only joined student organizations, they became leaders.
And they bravely rose above their country’s male-dominated culture to make independent decisions – decisions to not only travel but to live abroad … by themselves – for the purpose of advancing their own higher education. Such choices are not made lightly.
Now, as they earn master’s degrees in Early Childhood Education, they soon will return to Pakistan to reunite with loved ones and to resume their work.
Beyond the lessons they impart about American ways of learning – of teachers who empower students to facilitate their own discovery, who function as partners in that journey – they will quietly demonstrate the magnitude of what they have undertaken.
Kaneez knows from encounters with teachers in Pakistan that they want to deliver innovative and impactful instruction – but that they need professional support to do so. She will provide that, taking home with her influence and ideas not only from classmates in the United States but from many other countries, including China and Nigeria.
Sadia, who has found within herself a confidence, is eager to evangelize for the profound value of early childhood education – of the foundation it sets for future academic achievement. It’s not generally acknowledged in Pakistan, but she will change that.
Both women want teachers to know that a lack of resources cannot overpower passion for the job and solid educational strategies. That students with special needs are capable and deserving. That parents should encourage and accompany their children in learning, literally going hand-in-hand on educational adventures in and out of the classroom.
Their message to teachers back home – and to the children they teach – is forceful: Believe you can do something.
And, in their lives, they already have – not only for themselves but for generations to come. Congratulations!
James Fruchterman (center), pictured with (from left) the NIU College of Education’s Stacy Kelly, Gaylen Kapperman, Laurie Elish-Piper and NIU President Doug Baker, received an honorary doctorate during Saturday’s Graduate School commencement ceremony. Click the photo to read more about Fruchterman’s CEDU-rooted recognition.
Wright is currently on a research sabbatical in Scotland, where he’s examining the approach to physical education there. He is working with several Scottish schools to observe how such learning objectives are interpreted, promoted by teachers and experienced by students.
His time in Scotland also has included presentations to physical education research and professional organizations.
“However, in practice, teachers have very different interpretations of what that means,” he adds. “Most of the teachers I see are very competent and doing many things right. However, their approach to teaching personal and social skills is less coordinated and less intentional than their approach to teaching psychomotor skills, fitness, etc.”
Based at the University of Edinburgh, where he is a visiting scholar in the Moray House School of Education, Wright also has met with collaborators in other European countries such as Finland, Greece and Spain.
NIU colleagues also are helping to expand the scope of the research project, including schools in New Zealand, as they conduct a cross-cultural analysis.
“Much of what I am in seeing in Scotland matches what I have seen in the U.S.,” Wright says. “By the end of this year, with a large international sample, I think we can share findings that will bring a lot of attention to this topic in the physical education research community.”
Part of that will deal with educational policy and curriculum at a broader level.
To that end, he and his collaborators are uncovering a wealth of best practices that already are proving successful and “developing a good sense of what support is needed for teachers to turn this corner.”
“We are seeing that ill-defined learning objectives are less likely to be implemented in practice, especially when they are not accompanied by professional development, accountability or follow-through,” he says. “This is an educational policy issue that many countries and states need to be aware of.”
Scotland shows potential to build on its great foundation for promoting social and emotional learning through physical education, he says, but that job will require a more coherent framework, consistent pedagogical strategies and a more intentional approach.
“Like in the United States, there are opportunities built into physical education to explicitly teach personal and social skills. These are teachable moments that many teachers aren’t capitalizing on,” he says. “Physical education is an ideal setting to teach transferable life skills like cooperation and teamwork, but I think it’s falling short of its full potential at present.”
Coming months will keep him involved; he’s already debriefing with teachers in Scotland to assess their interest in moving forward with real-world applications of what he and his collaborators are learning.
Primary cohort Shirley Gray, who is helping Wright to develop this community of practice and action research, will facilitate its activities. Wright does plan to stay in touch through virtual meetings and occasional return visits.
Eventually, he and his colleagues plan to share their findings with policy makers as well as educational researchers and teachers.
“By taking this grassroots approach in each of the nations in this study, we hope to have a positive impact that goes beyond the traditional academic presentations and publications,” Wright says. “Social and emotional competencies are life skills that can help students in the present and in their future.”