Tag: special education

Lone Star stars: Educate U.S. ‘teas’ up for May trip to Texas

Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development, talks about Educate U.S.

Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development, talks about Educate U.S.

NIU College of Education students selected for the May 2017 edition of Educate U.S. gathered last week in a Graham Hall classroom to learn more about their pending trip to the Houston Independent School District.

Jennifer Johnson, the college’s director of teacher preparation and development, and Portia Downey, professional development coordinator, covered basics such as transportation times, liability forms, ground rules and more.

But the orientation session was mostly fun and festive.

The room was adorned with numerous Texas flags, many taped to the door and walls with others in the forms of paper plates and napkins at the buffet table, which dished up walking tacos, Downey’s homemade Texas Cowboy Cookies, Texas Sweet Tea and drinking glasses in the shape of cowboy boots.

Students also had their choice of Educate U.S. T-shirts and official College of Education red polo shirts.

David Walker, associate dean of the NIU College of Education, congratulated the group for pursuing the “phenomenal program” that sends outstanding pre-service teachers to Texas for donor-funded, all-expenses-paid experiences in a large, urban school district.

Elementary Education majors Marcus Lewis and Abby Spankroy listen during the Educate U.S. orientation.

Elementary Education majors Marcus Lewis and Abby Spankroy listen during the Educate U.S. orientation.

“You made it. You’re the best of the best. We’re really excited for you to be a part of this,” said Walker, who also promoted this summer’s Educate Global program in Taiwan. “When I was a student many years ago, I wish I would have had these opportunities.”

Educate U.S. participants work side-by-side with mentor teachers, observing in classrooms, preparing lessons, and engaging in co-teaching strategies. They also participate with students, host families and community members in a variety of extracurricular and community events, further enriching their experience.

Marcus Lewis, a junior elementary education major, applied for Educate U.S. to glimpse how school is taught outside the borders of Illinois.

“I’d like to experience a different area of the United States, and see how they take on education and pedagogy,” said Lewis, who also is participating in Educate Global this summer. “I value education as a tool for change, and I believe it’s one of the most important aspects of society.”

Lewis, who’s heard “nothing but great things” about Educate U.S., hopes to teach fourth-grade. “It’s a great transition time,” he said. “They’re moving into adolescence. They’re not babies anymore. They’re starting to rationalize.”

Sarah Younglove, a special education major, expects that her week in Houston will provide a view completely unlike her “predominantly white” hometown of Oregon, Ill.

Sarah Younglove (right) and Emma Foelske

Sarah Younglove (right) and Emma Foelske

“I’m from a really small town with less than 4,000 people,” she said. “This is a great opportunity to go to a school district that’s got more than 215,000 students, and to experience different cultures.”

Younglove is equally excited for her future career. “I just feel very passionate about seeing students reach their full potential,” she said, “and I think the world needs as many passionate teachers as it can get.”

Lorena Flores, a transfer student in Middle Level Teaching and Learning, is eager to explore Houston’s bilingual classrooms.

“I’ve never seen that applied at the middle level,” she said. “I want to see how they do it.”

Flores, a veteran of the U.S. Navy who developed a love of teaching as a drill instructor, also looks forward to observing and living “the everyday life of a teacher” who must balance school and home.

Her goal as a science teacher is to emulate one of her former instructors. “In high school, I had a certain math teacher who ended up being my math teacher for three years in a row,” she said. “I hated math – but he made it fun and interesting, and he treated us as people, not just a name or a number.”

texas-tacosEarly Childhood Studies majors traveling in May are Nycol Durham, Malika Lee, Ashley Kivikoski, Wendy Castillo-Guzman, Katelynn Horton, Ashley Hodges, Caroline Stephens and Catherina Rousonelos.

Elementary Education majors are Nicole VanGarsse, Abby Spankroy, Erin Kostos, Sarah Raila, Jennifer Lucchsi and Marcus Lewis.

Middle Level Teaching and Learning majors are Emma Foelske, Samantha Oakley and Lorena Flores. Special Education majors are Bailey Fisch, Rachel Streight and Sarah Younglove.

texas-group



Elementary Education enhances curriculum with new emphases

Anne Gregory

Anne Gregory

Elementary Education majors at NIU will enter the teaching field a step ahead of their peers.

Three new emphases – Bilingual/ESL, Reading Teacher and Special Education – will provide automatic endorsements in areas that previously required additional coursework.

For example, the Reading Teacher endorsement, designed for teachers who teach reading in a setting other than a self-contained classroom, currently entails 24 semester hours of credit in stand-alone courses.

Now, says Anne Gregory, chair of the Department of Literacy and Elementary Education, faculty will “purposefully incorporate” those lessons into existing courses.

With the innovation, students can complete their degrees and endorsements within four years, saving time and money while becoming more marketable: They’ll graduate with a “broad view” of what teachers can provide to young learners.

“It will make them look very different than anyone else in the state,” Gregory says. “There aren’t any other programs in Illinois that look like this. There are five-year programs elsewhere, but none that include this many options for candidates. And, no one else has done a four-year program. We will be a leader.”

Students also can pursue multiple endorsements, although that would extend their time in school.

Approved Dec. 15 by the NIU Board of Trustees, and slated to begin in the fall of 2017, the new emphases meet the demands of preservice teacher-candidates as well as Illinois public school districts.

“Our school districts are telling us, ‘These are the kinds of teachers we need,’ and we’re trying to respond to that need,” Gregory says. “And, when I talk to potential students and their parents, they say, ‘You can do that?’ They’re very excited.”

shelvesState of Illinois codes also are evolving, Gregory says, which further prompted faculty to reconsider how they structure and deliver courses.

Elementary Education majors who currently are juniors can take advantage of the new emphases beginning this semester.

Freshmen and sophomores currently working on general education credits will enter the program as Elementary Education majors (a change from the previous “pre-Elementary Education” designation).

They also will experience greater and earlier engagement with opportunities to enroll in a Themed Learning Community, live in the T.E.A.C.H. House, attend workshops and interview for participation in the department’s professional series.

Gregory and her colleagues also will welcome freshmen each fall at a special reception. “We want to provide students with these additional supports they need to become successful,” she says.

Changing the emphasis configuration requires no new resources, she adds. The courses and the “responsive and reflexive” faculty needed to implement the program are in place.

“These courses were on the books already. The Reading Teacher courses hadn’t been offered forever, but we had the impetus, and the ground was laid. Curriculum is supposed to be a living, breathing thing,” she says.

“We started re-examining what was happening in our courses, and asking ourselves, ‘Do we really need to do it this way?’ And, with my being new, it was easy for me to say, ‘Why?’ – and to start asking questions.”

For more information, call (815) 753-8556 or email ltcy@niu.edu.



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

Toni Van Laarhoven

Toni Van Laarhoven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Singing NIU’s praises overseas

College of Ed alumna values, imparts NIU lessons

Lalitha Gowdanahalli Ramappa visits Altgeld Hall in August.

NIU alumna Lalitha Gowdanahalli Ramappa visits
Altgeld Hall in August.

Lalitha Gowdanahalli Ramappa was teaching children with special needs through a spiritual organization in her native India when she came to an important realization.

“I didn’t have enough knowledge to teach them,” Lalitha says. “I wanted to learn more skills and how to be an effective teacher so I could really teach them better.”

That mission brought her to the United States – sponsored by her uncle – to enroll at the College of DuPage and, eventually, at NIU. She graduated from the NIU College of Education in December of 1993 with a master’s degree in special education.

Returning to India, Lalitha began volunteering at a school called Vivekananda Kendra, located in a rural area.

While there, she began applying her NIU training and evangelizing for the College of Education.

“I thank NIU for giving me such a nice education. I applied all of those skills in my school. I learned how to give them feedback, how to assist their skills and their intelligence, how to motivate them to learn,” she says.

She also taught English to the children, saying that many earned better grades in English than in Hindi. Her lessons also taught the children “good values” and “how to be happy.”

Her NIU experience similarly persuaded her to eschew a homeland tradition. “In behavior modification back home, we used harsh punishments to make them learn,” she says.

vive-logoAbandoning that practice, she says, allowed “the children to come out to be better human beings – that’s what I felt – and to value their education also.”

During her seventh year at Vivekananda Kendra, the school won a “best school award” at the district level and “best academic results” in the State of Assam for the year 2000.

Lalitha left teaching in 2004, moving to a cave in the Himalayas where she has lived since.

In the cave, located near the town of Gangotri, she enjoys “peace of mind and happiness” as she spends her days in prayer and living off the land.

Wild animals, including bears and leopards, are occasional visitors. “Sometimes they will come and sit next to me,” she says, “but they never harm me.” Telephone messages are delivered second-hand (and in person, obviously) by villagers in Gangotri who are aware of her home in the cave.

Anonymous strangers also leave food outside the cave, even though she asks for nothing, and somehow provide exactly what she might lack on that certain day.

“It is strange,” she says. “I don’t know how it works. I don’t have any explanation.”

Despite her Spartan lifestyle, and her departure from the classroom, she says her passion still burns for teaching.



Meet a COE Northern Lights Ambassador: Bernadette Chatman

Bernadette 2

Bernadette Chatman

“I have two ultimate goals in life: the first, to stay content and the second, to inspire someone to be a better them,” says Bernadette Chatman. “Both of these goals lead me to want to be an educator, more specifically an educator for those who are differently abled.”

Bernadette is a senior in special education as well as one of four COE Northern Lights Ambassadors.

As a Northern Light Ambassador, Bernadette says she wants to serve as a voice for the students. She believes students should be aware of all of the great opportunities that Northern, as well as the College of Education, has to offer.

“Our college has provided me with a few opportunities that I never saw myself doing. Teaching in Houston for a week is an example. The program, Educate U.S., gave me and 19 other NIU students the opportunity to teach in the Aldine School district. Unlike other institutions that send their students to the same program, NIU paid for our flight, ensured we were satisfied with our placements as well as the environment in which we lived in, and even took us out to explore Houston. I left Texas with a job offer and a greater appreciation for my college.”



Marian Cheatham – COE Alumni Story

embedMarian Cheatham (B.S. Ed. ’77) might not exist today were it not for an ancestor’s premonition — and avoidance — of the very disaster that launched Cheatham’s career.

Cheatham is a full-time writer of contemporary and historical young adult fiction. Her debut young adult novel, “Eastland,” is based on the real story of the 1915 Eastland boating disaster that claimed the lives of 844 people in Chicago.  As a child, Cheatham learned that her grandmother was somehow linked to the deadly shipwreck, but it wasn’t until she had started her writing career that she learned her grandmother was supposed to be on the ship that day. She had given up her ticket at the urging of her mother, however, who had an ominous feeling about the trip.

Cheatham now lectures about the Eastland disaster to schools, libraries and book clubs, and writes a post on the subject on the Chicago Tribune’s “Chicago Now” blog site. The ill-fated ship’s story became especially prominent this year when a recent NIU graduate discovered chilling original newsreels of the disaster, just in time for its 100th anniversary this summer.

Born and raised in the Chicago area, Cheatham attended NIU, where she pursued a degree in special education.

“I LOVED my time at NIU,” she said. “My friends and family used to say that I should have been the poster child for Northern. I loved everything about college life — the stimulating learning environment, the beautiful campus, the cheese-smothered burgers and fries in the cafeteria. It was all good.”

Cheatham lived in Lincoln Hall for her first two years, and then moved to University Plaza for her remaining two years at NIU.  After graduation, she returned to DeKalb and lived in a one-bedroom apartment off of Annie Glidden while working as a graduate research assistant for the head of the Department of Special Education.

Her undergraduate education was funded by a summer job at the M&M Mars Candy Company in Oak Park, Ill.

“The money we saved making Three Musketeers and Snickers paid for a full year of room, board and tuition,” she said. “It was a sweet job. No pun intended.”

smallCheatham was especially impressed through her involvement in the NIU Honors Program.

“Each semester, I was required to take an Honors class, in additional to my regular course load of 12 to 15 hours,” she explained. “This made for some heavy semesters, but the Honors classes were always the highlight of my year, especially the Greek mythology classes. I lived for them. The professor was one of the most engaging, enthralling people I’ve ever met. To this day, when I think of his lectures, I still smile.”

A trained educator, her eventual writing career may come as a surprise to some of her former professors:

“As for writing, well, I had a terrible time in my literature classes,” she confessed. “I loved reading, but writing papers was not my forte. I had one English Lit professor who told me my writing was so boring, it put him to sleep. Yikes!”

Cheatham said she became a writer anyway, “because I learned from my mistakes.”

After graduation, Cheatham taught special education at the primary level for several years before spending a few more years working in a family business with her father and siblings.

“I eventually left the business world to pursue a career in writing, but I remembered what that NIU professor told me,” she said. “So, I read every ‘how to’ book on the subject, joined a professional organization, attended workshops, conferences, book signings, author lectures, anything and everything to do with the art of writing. And then, I just put my butt in a chair and wrote, wrote, and rewrote until I thought (fingers crossed), I got something right.”

Cheatham recently took some time away from planning the 100th anniversary remembrances of the Eastland Disaster to share about her experiences at NIU. Read on for the full interview:

How did you first become interested in the Eastland Disaster, and how did that lead to your involvement today?

At family dinners as a child, my father and aunts and uncles would often talk about this big ship that had capsized in the Chicago River killing hundreds of people. My paternal grandmother, Grandma Manseau, apparently had some part in this disaster, but I never really understood the magnitude of the tragedy until I grew up. Only then, as a 40-something newbie writer looking for intriguing stories to write, did I discover what all the animated dinner conversation had been about.

From my first day of serious research into the Eastland, I was hooked on the story. Unfortunately for me, my father had already passed, but I was able to learn more about our family’s Eastland connection from my aunt. She told me that Grandma Manseau had a ticket for the July 24, 1915, Western Electric employee picnic. Western Electric Hawthorne Works in Cicero, Ill., had leased six steamships that would depart from the Chicago River and ferry the 7,000 picnickers to Washington Park in Michigan City, Ind. My grandmother did not work for Western Electric, but was going with a girlfriend who was a Hawthorne Works employee.

However, on the night before the big excursion, my great grandmother had a premonition of danger and death and begged my then 28-year-old grandmother not to go on this picnic with her girlfriend. Great-Grandma Savageau’s premonition must have been terrifying because my grandmother conceded and remained safely at home.

Of course, Great-Grandma Savageau had been correct. Something deadly did occur that Saturday morning, July 24, 1915. My grandmother’s decision to forego the picnic had saved her life — and mine. When the realization of that prophetic premonition sank in, I knew I had to write this story.

To you, what is the significance of the clips recently discovered by another NIU alumnus regarding the Eastland?

In my opinion, the significance is huge. It proves that the Eastland story was big news all across the globe. The foreign press in Chicago that day must have rushed to the disaster site to film as soon as word broke. The scenes in the clips are of rescue efforts only hours after the capsizing. Of course, in Chicago the news was unimaginable and devastating. But news of the Eastland had repercussions worldwide. Many of the Western Electric employees at that time were “Bohemian” from pre-WWI countries of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Russian, et cetera. Some employees were working here to support family back in the Old Country. Losing that support meant not only suffering emotionally from an Eastland death, but also facing financial hardship.

On a more personal level, watching those film clips made the stories I’d only read about seem more real. Several times, I was moved to tears thinking of those victims being fished from the Chicago River or pulled from within the bowels of the ship. I knew those victims’ names. I’d met family members, visited Eastland graves, but now, it was as though I were watching the scene play out live. Those clips had an eerie 9/11 déjà vu feeling about them — haunting and unforgettable.

What is planned for the 100th anniversary?

The Eastland Disaster Historical Society of Arlington Heights, Ill., the official host of the 100th Anniversary Commemoration Weekend, has been planning for this occasion for decades, and they have many educational and emotional ceremonies planned over the course of a three-day weekend beginning Friday, July 24. (For a schedule of events and details on how to order tickets, visit the organization’s website.)

What can we learn from this disaster?

Urban legends regarding the cause of the Eastland tragedy have circulated around the country for a century – everything from passengers rushing to the riverside of the ship, to the wild story that the tugboat Kenosha pulled the Eastland over. But the sad reality of the matter is that human greed, hubris, and poor judgment caused the disaster.

On the morning of July 24, 1915, a series of events occurred in catastrophic succession, resulting in the greatest loss-of-life disaster in the history of Chicago and the Great Lakes. The news shook the world, but did anything change? Chicago initiated stability testing on passenger steamships after the disaster. Passenger capacity licensing came under stricter government controls. The entire steamship industry went into a steady decline after the Eastland, but that may have had more to do with war and the economy than fear over public safety.

There was an outcry for justice, but no one was ever found guilty. The 844 victims never received a penny in compensation from the owners, and although Western Electric Hawthorne Works suffered greatly over the loss of nearly 500 employees, the company eventually went on to become an American icon. Sadly, in hindsight, nothing seemed to have changed. The Eastland was a sensationalized story that sold millions of newspapers, but as for the survivors and the families of the victims, life went on.

Why do you work so hard to preserve the memory of this event?

I fight hard to keep the story alive because I see the victims as people — real-life human beings who struggled to make a life for their families in the booming metropolis of 1915 Chicago. So many victims were first- or second-generation Americans. They, themselves, had come here or their parents had emigrated here from Europe to forge the American dream. After reading about so many of them, learning their stories, meeting their ancestors, walking their neighborhoods, and visiting the Western Electric museum to learn about their workplace and the products they produced, I feel for these people. They are alive in my mind and my heart. That is why I can’t stop telling their stories. They deserve to be remembered.

What advice do you offer to current students and alumni about building a career?

As Oprah often says, follow your bliss. I’m a firm believer in that philosophy, but I caution that warm, fuzzy sentiment with a cold slice of reality. You may be the best novelist of your generation, but writing a novel can take years. Who’s going pay your bills until your brilliant book debuts? If you don’t want to live in your parents’ basement till your Social Security kicks in, then you have to have a paying day job.

That doesn’t mean you can’t work in your chosen field. If you’re the creative type, you can go into advertising or editing or teach dance classes. Work to pay the bills but save your free time to pursue your artistic dreams. Network to build contacts, take classes to improve your craft, join a critique group of like-minded souls for emotional support, attend workshops and conferences. In other words, nourish and nurture your dreams, and you will be a success.

Learn more about Marian Cheatham at:

www.chicagonow.com/everyday-eastland/

www.facebook.com/mariancheatham.author

www.amazon.com/Ruined-Stratford-High-Marian-Cheatham/dp/1500335444

http://www.niutoday.info/2015/02/26/recent-niu-graduate-uncovers-film-of-eastland