Month: February 2015

Dr. Sarah Woulfin Joins Panel Discussion on Portraits of Qualitative Research

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Assistant Professor, Dr. Sarah Woulfin was a panelist on the Portraits of Qualitative Research brownbag discussion on February 19th.  She spoke about her successes and challenges in collecting and analyzing qualitative data on reading coaches’ activities in promoting reform within an urban school district.  She also shared ideas for rigorous qualitative data analysis using excel to tabulate data from qualitative coding reports.

The panel also included Dr. Joe Abramo and Dr. Suzanne Wilson; Dr. Rachael Gabriel served as the discussant.  The brownbag session discussed research involving qualitative analyses of data.  Faculty, staff, and doctoral students from across departments attended.

The brownbag event was hosted by the Neag School of Education, Qualitative Methods Committee.

To hear a recording of the discussion, please click here.

 

CEPA Hosts State Rep. Andy Fleischmann

State Rep. Fleischmann Visits Neag, Shares Thoughts on Future of Education in Connecticut

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The Neag School of Education’s Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) hosted “A Cofleischman-1nversation with Representative Andy Fleischmann” this past November at the Storrs campus. As the chairman of the Education Committee of the Connecticut State Assembly, State Rep. Fleischmann (West Hartford) spoke about the future of education in Connecticut schools and how education policy research could better inform policy making in Hartford and beyond.

Hosted by CEPA, this was the first time Fleischmann was invited to the Neag School of Education since he assumed office in 1995. As a major advocate for children and education, Fleischmann has worked on the state and national levels to help ensure that children are receiving the highest quality of education through research and policy implementation.

“One of the things that I would love to come out of this dialogue would be ideas, research, facts, and concepts about what Connecticut can do to make sure it has the most effective teachers, most effective principals, and the most effective superintendents,” Fleischmann said at the event.

“Neag is really trying to jump-start into being the center of policy analysis, and we want to move it into a new realm of influence,” says Morgaen Donaldson, Neag associate professor of educational leadership and the director of CEPA, which works with educational leaders and policymakers on issues related to the development, implementation, and consequences of education policies. “Fleischmann is one of the most influential policymakers in the state. To us, inviting him was a clear choice,” she says.


Ensuring Academic Excellence

Faculty from Neag and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, as well as local citizens, current undergraduate and graduate UConn students, and even area high school students visiting the University filled the seats.

Fleischmann spoke at length about developments following the midterm elections and how they will impact schools. He said that it is important for educational researchers to conduct relevant research to support policy changes and new initiatives. Given the recent federal level and statewide elections, he also questioned how policymakers will implement the new actions based on the educational research available.

Fleischmann said that, since 1995, Connecticut has put excessive amounts of money into school readiness programs across the state without conducting any longitudinal studies to gauge the effectiveness of these programs. He said that there should be more communication and more partnering to achieve that success.

“Ideally, we should get new people in the room and have the right type of data collected for longitudinal study designs. This way, we won’t continue to wonder, ‘Gee, how did it go?’ but rather, we will be proactive about these studies,” Fleischmann said.

Given the strong connection between education and politics, Fleischmann emphasized that research from schools such as UConn is essential to policymaking in Hartford. If teachers wanted to see something changed in the classroom, it would first have to begin with some kind of research to show why changes need to be made, he said.

“The No. 1 factor for a student excelling is the quality of the teacher; the second is the school leader. Wouldn’t it be neat for us to figure how to implement the best policies to ensure academic excellence?” Fleischmann said.

CEPA plans on having other key figures come to the Neag School for further discussion on education research and policymaking. In the upcoming semester, Donaldson says she hopes to invite other state representatives as well as members of the Connecticut Education Association, Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, and similar groups.

“I hope that by bringing in researchers to talk to us about their research on policy creation and implementation, it will foster a community of like-minded individuals who can make a change,” Donaldson says.

 

Sport Exchange with South Africa

The International Language of Sports

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Connecticut is 12,500 miles from South Africa. But shooting hoops with fifth-graders at the Clark Elementary & Middle School gym in Hartford recently, Sikhulu Zondo was suddenly aware that playing with the American students had erased the age and cultural barriers between them.

“I’m so glad to be here,” says the Cape Town middle school teacher. Sweeping her arm in a gesture encompassing all the players – which included 10 UConn sHusky Sport is a campus-community partnership based at the Clark Elementary and Middle School that has tapped the power of sport to connect Hartford and UConn since 2003. (Neag School of Education/UConn File Photo)tudents – she added: “When I get back home, I’m going to start a program like Husky Sport.”

Husky Sport is a campus-community partnership that provides groups of UConn students as mentors who between them spend 40 hours a week engaged in sports with Clark School students. At the same time, they build friendships that, in time, allow them to also talk about nutrition, healthy lifestyles, and life skills, as well as provide tutoring and other academic support.

Zondo says her students at the Ark Ministries Christian School for homeless children where she works mostly live at the school, so after school they need something like Husky Sport.

Cultural Exchange

Through a grant awarded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs SportsUnited Division, UConn, partnering with the University of Western Cape in Cape Town, hosted a 12-day Sports for Cultural Change program in October for 10 South African educators, including Zondo, who manage community or school youth sports programs that use sport as a tool for positive social change.

Developed by UConn’s Global Training and Development Institute, the two-way exchange provided the African participants – chosen by the University of Western Cape through a merit-based, competitive process – the chance to interact with Americans and experience American society, culture, and values firsthand.

As the program is reciprocal, in March 2015, 10 Americans who also work in sports-based youth development organizations, such as schools, the YMCA, and youth sports leagues, will travel to South Africa to learn more about managing and organizing youth sport in the Western Cape region. During their visit to South Africa, the American participants will also help their South African counterparts launch sport-based youth development projects in the Western Cape region that replicate some of the U.S.-based programming. UConn will support these mini-projects with funding from the grant intended to leverage resources toward sustainable capacity-building and community development.

Roy Pietro, director of the Global Training and Development Institute and architect of the program, says the focus is on “using youth sports to promote academic success, psychosocial development, tolerance, cross-cultural exchange, and conflict resolution.”

Pietro originally developed and piloted the program in Hong Kong in 2012, when Chinese and American colleagues shared their experiences administering sports programs in their respective countries. The success of that exchange led to the creation of this year’s program with South Africa.

The U.S. State Department partners with universities that have a capacity to manage programs successfully because they want the exchanges to continue, Pietro says. “The friendships and broadening of mutual understanding achieved through our pilot in Hong Kong illustrated sport’s ability to increase dialogue and cultural understanding between people worldwide.”

‘Stronger than sitting in a classroom’

A favorite feature of the program pairs the visiting participants with peers from the host country for a three-day job shadow, to help them learn about one another’s experiences and share innovative ideas and best practices in managing and organizing youth sport. Time spent watching their peers at work – as Zondo did at Hartford’s Clark School – allows visitors to observe new methods and applications that might be adapted for their communities or schools back home.

The Global Training and Development Institute worked with UConn’s Husky Sport program to include job shadowing for the South Africans.

Person-to-person exchanges play a huge role in making the program a great learning experience, says Jennifer Bruening, professor and head of the Department of Educational Leadership in UConn’s Neag School of Education. “It’s so much stronger than sitting in a classroom. It’s so much more meaningful and inspirational.”

Zondo’s American shadow partner was Justin Evanovich ’04 (CLAS), ’06 MA, ’11 Ph.D., assistant clinical professor of educational leadership and managing director of Husky Sport, who was a walk-on UConn undergrad on the men’s basketball team and also earned his Ph.D. from UConn. He says the time spent with Zondo validated his zeal for using sports as a tool for positive change.

“It’s very cool to see that we’re on the same page with some of the concepts and approaches that we’re taking,” he says. “It’s like we’re using a board with X’s and O’s, asking whether this works for your team, or how would this work at your school.”

What Can Come From Sport

Using sport as a tool is at the heart of the Husky Sport model and guides how the UConn student mentors approach their engagement with Clark School students, their curriculum planning, and lesson delivery, he says.

“Having been involved in sport my entire life,” he says, “and how it took me to different places, helped me learn and interact with different people, be in mutual relationships, develop communication skills, a respect for sacrifice, and a work ethic – all that came from sport.”

Evanovich says that understanding a community is foundational when trying to implement new programs and establish credibility with students so they will trust adults – such as the UConn Husky Sport mentors.

“But you can’t teach lessons to someone you don’t know,” he adds, noting that Husky Sport purposefully partners with the community in an eight-block radius around Clark School, going to the same location, working with the same kids and their families, and working with the same teachers day in and day out. “We think this makes a difference in the relationships we build. … Sport is a way to begin that process.”

Zondo says the emphasis on building trust through relationships was the most outstanding thing she learned.

“In our country, we don’t get to that stage of talking about relationships,” she says. “We are going to embrace this because … I think our children will benefit.”

UCAPP’s Desi Nesmith is recognized with the Milken Educator Award

Neag Alumnus Awarded Milken Award

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Desi Nesmith reacts to being recognized with the Milken Award. Photo credit: Milken Family Foundation

Sitting in the exact gym where he sat as an elementary school student, Metacomet Elementary School Principal Desi Nesmith was brought to tears when he learned that he had received the Milken Educator Award–nicknamed ”the Oscars of Teaching.”

“I wasn’t sure if it was real,” Nesmith said of receiving the prestigious honor. The Milken Educator Award is the premiere teaching accolade that recognizes the “unsung heroes” of education, providing them with a $25,000 award. Nesmith says that he is giving “serious consideration” on what to do with the award money.

Nesmith was told that Commissioner of the State Department of Education Stefan Pryor was visiting to congratulate Metacomet Elementary School on their reading and writing scores. Before Nesmith was named principal four years ago, the Bloomfield elementary school had a wide achievement gap of 19 percent and struggled in reading, writing, and math scores. Just last year, Metacomet reported that these scores exceeded the state average by 8.1 percent. Nesmith is credited for eliminating the achievement gap and bringing up the academic scores.

“It’s fantastic when a home-grown hero-educator receives the recognition they deserve,” Pryor told theHartford Courant. “He’s the superb kind of leader we need to foster in Connecticut … he sets a precedent for his peers and we are so proud.”

Nesmith was “absolutely overwhelmed and humbled” to receive this award and was the only educator in Connecticut this year to do so. His roots are here in Connecticut, graduating from the Neag School of Education and working around the state. Previously, Nesmith presided over the turnaround of SAND Elementary School, which went from being the sixth lowest performance school to being recognized in 2010 as one of the top ten improved schools.

This isn’t the first time Nesmith has been highlighted for his accomplishments. After earning his BS in 2001 and an MA in 2002 through the Neag School of Education’s IB/M program, he went onto complete the UCAPP administrator preparation program in 2009. In 2009, he received the inaugural “Outstanding Young Professional Award” from the Neag School of Education Alumni Society.

“Neag prepared me for my position by equipping me with the tools necessary to be a change agent for kids,” Nesmith said. “The relationships that are established are life long relationships with professors and Dean Schwab that last far beyond the end of the semester. Neag faculty stay with you as a support system for all your endeavors.”

To receive this prestigious award at Metacomet, where his love of learning began, is something Nesmith will always cherish.

“I remember my older brothers walking me across the street to school every day before they’d run off to the middle school – we lived right across the street,” Nesmith told the Hartford Courant. “Being able to be a principal here is what it means to me to come full circle – this award, this is just so much more.”

Nesmith is added to the list of 92 Connecticut educators to be recognized as Milken Educator Award recipients since the award’s inception. The Milken Family Foundation has honored early to mid-career educators around the country with unrestricted $25,000 awards since 1987.

“I see this award as a culmination of the hard work of many people including the Metacomet students, teachers and families,” Nesmith said. “To receive this award and to represent both Metacomet and Bloomfield Public Schools with this honor is the most humbling thing that could happen to me as an administrator.”