A Note From Our Dean
Hello, everyone. If there’s one axiom for education it might be: Teaching requires flexibility and intentionality. At the beginning of the spring semester, we never imagined we’d all be shifting to online learning and embracing non-traditional instruction as a way of being, much less working from home. Daily life in the midst of a pandemic can make it hard to remember all the good things that happened and see the good things that are still being created every day. As this newsletter shares, our alumni, students and faculty continue to do good work in service to K-12 students, embrace opportunities to learn and lead, and demonstrate excellence through their achievements. I invite you to celebrate this goodness in the midst of a challenging time and with a promise that we will continue to pair flexibility with intention in service to teaching and learning. Please do take care of yourself and those you hold dear.
Elizabeth Dinkins, Ph.D.
Dean, Associate Professor
Annsley Frazier Thornton School of Education
When field placement coordinator Sondra Ferren approached Okolona Elementary School principal Karen Stearman about the prospect of assigning some juniors to the school for their practicum, Stearman enthusiastically jumped at the chance.
Instead of choosing among the 12 Elementary Education majors to place in a few of her classrooms, Stearman invited the whole cohort. As Ferren describes it, “She said she would feel more comfortable if all of her teachers had a student: ‘Let’s do them all.’”
Ferren saw the offer as a challenge—and an opportunity. “Taking on that many students is huge,” she says, citing the logistics of bringing that many extra people into the 300-student school, from arranging parking to matching the juniors to their teachers. “We wanted it to go smoothly—we could sink or we could swim. We didn’t want to sink.”
While Education students start their undergraduate careers exploring various grade levels—all are required to observe in elementary, middle and high schools—by their third year they are prepared to commit to earning their degree in elementary education or middle and secondary education. A significant part of their practice involves exploring schools with varying diversity and socioeconomic levels, and Ferren recognized Okolona as a potential environment for her placements to have a particularly enriching field experience. (Fifty-nine percent of the students identify as nonwhite minorities, and more than 84 percent qualify for free or reduced-price meals.) Ferren, Stearman and university supervisor/student mentor Lynn Gottbrath met in the summer of 2019 with a view to a yearlong residency for the incoming juniors. According to Ferren, things worked out “flawlessly.”
Then came the pandemic. Along with all other cornerstones of society, schools had to adapt—fast. Nontraditional instruction (NTI), long a one-off solution for snow days or students otherwise stuck at home for a day or two, became the new normal as Kentuckians across the state followed Gov. Andy Beshear’s directive to stay “healthy at home,” effectively sheltering in place. Jefferson County Public Schools rushed to distribute some 20,000 Chromebooks to allow students without a computer at home to keep up with their coursework. Teachers, of course, found themselves trying to navigate this new way of instruction.
Fortunately, they had help. “Even though school is out, some of [the juniors] are staying in touch with their teachers to work on the NTI requirement,” says Ferren. “We don’t require it, but they’re doing things to help their teachers wherever they can, even though some are far, far away—as far away as California.” She adds: “Teachers and our students form bonds when they’ve been together a year.”
Ferren, who has been involved with JCPS in one capacity or another for more than four decades, models the resilience Bellarmine has always worked to instill in its students. “This has been an opportunity for me to be creative, more focused,” she says. “It’s also given [the juniors] the opportunity to think of how to do things differently, opportunities we may not have taken advantage of in the past. Children still need social skills, but if we use what we learn, this will shift the paradigm of education and how we do it.”
The Class of 2020 will remember their last year as undergrads as the one that ended too soon. For the student-athletes, their experience was extra jarring—a season cut short during perhaps their last opportunity to shine. Two Elementary Education seniors, Jennifer Skonieczny and Benton Stone, managed to finish on a high note. In February, Skonieczny became the eighth player to record 100 career victories with the women’s tennis program, in a doubles match against West Virginia State University. In March, pole vaulter Stone was waiting to compete at the DII NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships when he received word that the event had been canceled. The next day he held his own meet, where he cleared the bar at 5.2 meters—a personal and school record, albeit an unofficial one. (This bested his gold-medal-winning 5.1-meter vault at the Great Lakes Valley Conference Indoor Championships two weeks before.)
In February, the School of Education’s Kappa Delta Pi honor society chapter held a book drive to benefit the Dream Express bookmobile, founded by Lynette Ward (B.A. ’04, M.A.T. ’07) and her husband to promote childhood literacy around the Commonwealth. Members of the School and university community donated new and used books, which stretched far across Allen 460 (pictured). She is an instructional coach at Bullitt Lick Middle School in Shepherdsville.
In March, Ph.D. student Marcus Stubbs and junior Grace Perkins spent spring break in Guatemala, where they learned about that country’s educational system firsthand through sociocultural, historical and social justice lenses and presented to students. “This was such an amazing experience with an incredible group of people. God spoke to me in so many different ways that week—through the mountains, the children, the scenery we were surrounded by each day,” says Grace, who also traveled to South Africa last spring. “I am so grateful to be able to see the world and have each trip shape my perspective differently.”
- Therron Rogers – Hidden Identity: A Constructivist Grounded Theory of Black Male Identity Development at Historically Black Colleges and Universities
- O.J. Oleka – High School Counselors as Social Capital in a Career Academy High School Model for Low-Income Students: A Case Study
- Anastasia Quirk – Mindfulness and Testing: An Exploration of the Benefits of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Meditation Practice on Test Anxiety
- Kristie Johnson – We Live in Two Worlds: Foreign-born College and University Presidents–Perspectives, Leadership, and Resiliency
Also, congratulations to Matthew Constant (B.A. '94), who was named the new superintendent of Owensboro Public Schools in March.
In February, President Donovan announced the appointment of Dr. DJ Mitchell as the university’s first Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer, starting as a member of her cabinet on March 1: “One of the key priorities in our new strategic plan is to demonstrate a fully realized and lived commitment to equity and inclusion...Dr. Mitchell’s appointment to this new role is a milestone in the university’s progress.” Dr. Mitchell will still be active in the School of Education, coordinating the Master of Arts in Education in Higher Education Leadership & Social Justice program and advising students.
In early March, Bellarmine Ed faculty and staff went to Okolona Elementary to read to kids in honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday and #ReadAcrossAmerica. Pictured: Dr. Winn Wheeler, who in a previous life was an elementary and middle school literacy coach in Oldham County, got into the spirit.
In early February, Bellarmine hosted the second Kentucky Higher Education Leadership Summit. Dr. Mike Vetter, director of the Ph.D. program in Leadership in Higher Education, started the professional development event for faculty, staff and graduate students at Bellarmine and eight other colleges and universities in the region. Approximately 75 attendees enjoyed panel discussions featuring experts in postsecondary education administration, a keynote presentation from former Millsaps College president Dr. Frances Lucas, and a networking reception. Dr. Vetter was “very pleased” to welcome more than twice the number of guests as last year’s gathering, including a significant number of prospective Ph.D. students.