'Being a social justice educator is a special calling'
After teaching for years in Jamaica at the largest Jesuit Secondary High in the Caribbean, Slaney Palmer moved to Chicago to further his education. He completed his bachelor’s degree in history at Loyola in May, and his desire to not only teach, but advocate for, his students drew him back to Loyola to pursue his MEd in Secondary Education.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
I would not classify my journey into teaching as inspirational in any sense because I do not have the conventional story that many have about amazing teachers they had growing up. Many of my teachers and I shared a mutual understanding that we existed in the same time and space for specific periods. So fundamentally, it was my experiences as a student that shaped my decision to become a teacher. Having had those experiences, I decided that my aim was never to allow any person that I was tasked with educating to only that relationship with myself.
What draws you specifically to secondary education?
The adolescent years are the most important in the life of a child. They go through puberty, have identity crises, and increasingly become more aware of themselves and who they are as a person. For me, the secondary level is the last line of defense, or that bridge for them to cross which scaffold them into their success.
Teaching for several years before moving to the US cemented that conviction. I also have had my fair share of personal tragedies and setbacks and I know that navigating through the adolescent years can be grueling. Having had all those experiences, I want to be in the position to help as much as I can and in the best way possible.
Talk about your summer as part of the program.
The summer sessions were very interesting and markedly different, but a wholesome experience. It was a great opportunity to be able to visit various institutions to get hands-on experience with the strategic partnerships that are out there or that we can create in our future practice. Being able to be on-site at a school to get a sense of what we are up against—the positives, the challenges, and also the school culture—is a real benefit. The dynamics of our group made it even more interesting. Having the opportunity to interact with people of various backgrounds and experiences added a very unique dimension to the experience.
How does the Jesuit philosophy influence what kind of teacher you would like to be?
The Jesuit philosophy on education calls us to see the discerning spirit of God in all things and reminds us that we must endeavor to do all things for the greater glory of God. With that in mind, I understand and acknowledge that being a social justice educator is a special calling. It is the acknowledgement that we are called to serve those who are in need, marginalized, and or oppressed. Our service must be universal, inclusive, diverse, and with a preferential option for advocacy for those who are at risk of being left behind.
Responding to "vast needs" in low-income, urban schools
Jessica Kibblewhite, a Chicago public school graduate, never planned to be a teacher. After attending Vassar College and then studying design at Columbia College Chicago, Kibblewhite has worked for years as a graphic designer (even illustrating her own children’s book). However, her passion for social justice and her belief that change begins with education inspired her to pursue her MEd in Special Education at Loyola.
What inspired you to change careers and become a teacher?
While I enjoyed the problem-solving and creative dimensions of graphic design, I realized that something significant was missing: I was not being challenged by my deeper desire to promote social justice through social change. Returning to my earlier interests, I began to read more about America’s school systems and their relative strengths and weaknesses. As I know from my experiences and studies, America’s school system is still struggling to provide adequate programs for students of diverse abilities and backgrounds. This is particularly true in schools in lower-income, urban environments. I decided it was necessary to act now to do something important to respond to these vast needs.
What draws you to special education?
I initially became interested in special education in high school and at Vassar College while working with children and adults in specialized summer programs. I began to think more about what it would mean to work professionally with diverse learners. There are many students with great potential who are too often provided insufficient or inappropriate support on micro and macro levels. Every student must be valued and should be provided with the resources to thrive and succeed. I decided that I would like to work with students with special needs, as I deeply believe in the ability of a committed, motivated teacher to bring real change to the lives of students so often underserved by our system.
Talk about your summer as part of the program.
This summer, I have learned many invaluable and interrelated means through which to learn and to make reasoned, reflective, and responsive decisions towards promoting the social justice in which I so deeply believe.
Invaluably, all of our courses this summer included work beyond a classroom setting, including two weeks in Senn High School classrooms, working one-on-one with English Language Learners in Onward Neighborhood House’s classrooms, and active, critical community engagement throughout the Edgewater neighborhood.
This summer, I also began working in the 48th Ward and State Representative’s office under their remarkable education liaison, Karen Dreyfuss. Currently, I am working on an initiative that provides educational opportunities for all of its residents, facilitating engaged learning within schools and throughout the community.
Before beginning the program, I could not have imagined the extent to which my life would change in only three months and the extent to which, through the support of this program, my passion would grow. And, just as importantly, how much more I have yet to learn.
Loyola grad wins Golden Apple award
By Kelsey Cheng | Student reporter
A decade ago, Monica Prinz was working as an occupational hand therapist. She enjoyed her job and loved helping others, but she often wondered if she had missed her true calling.
So she decided to get her master’s degree in education at Loyola—and today she’s one of the best school teachers in the Chicago area.
Prinz (MEd ’06), who teaches first grade at Gillespie Elementary School on Chicago’s South Side, recently received a Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. The award is given to roughly a dozen outstanding teachers each year for their efforts in educating under-served students. This year’s recipients were selected from a pool of more than 600 applicants.
As the daughter of a teacher, Prinz knows how important quality educators are in the lives of young children. And she also knows how important her Loyola degree was in helping her succeed in her new career.
“Loyola gave me a really good foundation,” she said. “It was more than just theories.”
Here, she talks about her father’s influence and inspiration, the importance of giving back to the community, and why she loves growing vegetables with her students.
Where did you begin your career?
I grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee, in Wauwatosa, and I went to the local public school. In high school I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. One of my friends said, “Oh, you have to go to college.” She convinced me to go to college, without really knowing what I wanted to do. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and became an occupational therapist.
What led you to switching professions?
My husband was in Chicago, so I decided to move. I was working on the North Side of the city as a certified hand therapist. I really enjoyed doing that, but I always felt like there was a certain level of teaching that I was doing with my patients—and I thought maybe I missed my calling to become a teacher. That’s when I decided to look into teaching and found Loyola.
How did you decide to attend Loyola?
I felt Loyola had a really good philosophy on education. What stuck out to me was service and social justice. I have kids myself who are in Chicago Pubic Schools and some of the differences I noticed stem from having a school where families are engaged. It is really hard to compare that to some of the neighborhood schools. Loyola’s emphasis on social justice and equity among different schools and people living within the same community stood out to me.
Do you have someone or something that is a source of inspiration?
My father was a teacher. He passed away recently, but one of the things that touched me was that his previous students remembered him and shared how he impacted their lives.
Have you had previous students come back and share the impact you had on them?
There are eighth-graders at the school that I taught years before, and they came to my classroom when I won the Golden Apple. They were so excited and were screaming, “We won! We won!” It’s gratifying to have them come back and celebrate and talk to me.
Talk a little about some of the programs you’ve brought to the classroom.
My latest project has been integrating technology and creating a blended learning classroom. I feel that it is really important to expose children at an early age to technology because it so integral to our everyday fabric of life. We also received a grant for gardening. We have a few gardens at the school, and they help students understand the life cycle of plants and where our food comes from. Today we just went out and planted, and in a couple weeks I’m hoping we get some crops to make a salad.
You lead through an engaged classroom. Did you have a similar experience at Loyola?
We did a clinical, and I really enjoyed that experience of having my professors guide me throughout the classrooms. I remember in my math class we went over different activities and skills and the same thing for my reading. I had classes that helped connect social trends to science and how to really bring it to life, which was really important. It was a strong basis for my career. It built a great repertoire for a starting teacher.
How have things changed since you first started teaching?
When I started there was a new principal—also a Loyola graduate (Michelle Willis)—who came in, and there has been a lot of program development since. She was the right leader, with the right attitude, and the right people. I am not working in isolation; I am working with a lot of other wonderful teachers on other programs because there are a lot of other talented and engaging teachers at Gillespie.
What is the one thing you hope every Loyola student walks away with?
A commitment to serve and give back to your community. I think it is so important that you give back.
Loyola Transfer Student Spotlight: Meet Stacey Pequeno
Loyola University Chicago student Stacey Pequeno transferred from the College of Lake County. An education major, Stacey's enjoyed working in her fieldwork placements and being active on campus. She looks forward to studying abroad at the John Felice Rome Center in Italy.
A 'trail-blazing' approach to teacher preparation
"With Loyola, we have our professors there after we do observations. And we get to ask the questions immediately, on-site."
Student Spotlight: Meet Zehra Gokal
Elementary education major Zehra Gokal choose Loyola because "your freshman year, your first semester, you get to go to classrooms."
Student Spotlight: Meet Cynthia Raya
"We're in this urban school setting that not everyone's exposed to."
Meet Jae Shin
Jae Shin, Special Education major concluding her studies at Loyola talks about her journey to become an educator.
Meet student teacher Michael Godinez
Why teaching? “My mom is a teacher, first of all. But I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I was in high school. Then, senior year, I had a great pre-calculus teacher. It was the first time I understood how math worked, and I was tutoring people. My teacher said, ‘I see how you explain things to people. You can do this."
One-on-one—“We have a department office, and we have an empty classroom to use as a math resource room. Kids come in with homework or whatever. I’ve been taking those meetings, which I really enjoy. I like being able to work one on one with kids."
Excelsior—“There are days when you get up there, and you think you have the greatest lesson plan, and they just look at you like, ‘What are you talking about?’ So you keep trying to do better."
Drive to succeed—“I really enjoy it. The kids are almost too driven—especially the older ones. I tell them not to stress out too much. Everybody is like, ‘How can I do better? Can I come in for help?"
Tip of the iceberg—“Just from seeing my mom, I knew teaching was a lot of work. She’ll be at school until 7 and then work another couple hours at home. But I never fully realized how much goes into preparing for class. We work through homework problems, because we have to explain it the next day and we don’t want to be solving giant equations on the fly. We’re doing the homework too! I’ve been surprised how much teaching goes beyond just the things you think of—grading, writing tests—there’s so much more."
Major: Secondary education and math
Internship: Student teaching at St. Ignatius College Prep
Coordinating Teacher: Ruston Broussard (MEd’ 12)
Planning, hard work, passion
Grad makes a difference in the lives of bilingual students
Loyola graduates are known for choosing careers that don't always provide an easy path. Juan Bottia wanted to teach bilingual elementary education but worried about whether he was up to the challenge of being responsible for students' education at such a critical, formative period in their lives.
- Juan Bottia
- Teacher, Orchard Place Elementary School
- Why Loyola?
- For the opportunity to do teacher training in Chicago—and because employers respect the Loyola name.
The passion he saw in his own teachers in Loyola’s School of Education solidified how vital the job was and gave him the confidence he needed. "Observing my Loyola professors and how much they love what they teach really inspired me."
Bottia also says he always felt supported by the faculty. "My professors were always willing to lend me a hand and help me." In fact, one of them helped Bottia land his teaching job.
Loyola’s emphasis on cross-cultural understanding and global perspectives helped prepare Bottia for the real-world classroom. Loyola’s own multicultural student body and location in Chicago, home to more than 100 ethnically diverse neighborhoods, augmented Bottia’s cultural literacy and his teaching experience.
"Loyola gave me the opportunity to observe schools in the Chicago area," he says. "I was able to learn from a variety of environments and work with different ethnic backgrounds. It really expanded my world view and allowed me to really become a better teacher and prepare myself for this career — which takes a lot of planning, a lot of hard work, and a lot of passion."
Now as a third- and fourth-grade bilingual teacher at an elementary school in suburban Chicago, Bottia works to inspire his own students, all of whom are learning to speak, read, and write in English for the first time.
"We’re trying to let our students know that they can go to college one day. They are going to have the opportunity one day to make a career. A lot of these kids don’t know that."
Bottia’s Loyola education has prepared him to address the hopes and challenges of his classroom and our world. He exudes a critical Loyola belief — that with the right support and inspiration, one can prepare to lead an extraordinary life. That can be understood in any language.
'A life-changing experience'
Abi Wilberding discusses her field-based learning experiences, getting her ready for a career in urban education.
Teaching brings a smile to her face
Whitney A. Smurr’s passion for learning and teaching others makes her an easy choice for a President’s Medallion.
Outside the classroom, Smurr goes above and beyond as well. She’s the vice president of the Agape Christian Fellowship and a member of the Golden Key International Honor Society. And she’s also completed the Chicago Marathon as part of Team World Vision, a humanitarian organization that fights global poverty.
Here, she talks about the close friends she’s made at Loyola, all the things she’ll miss about the University, and why a Snuggie is the perfect study companion.
What’s your favorite Loyola memory?
My favorite memories from Loyola are from last fall in the now defunct Block I program in the School of Education. Sixteen of us were thrown into class together for three hours or more each day, and we attended clinicals together. Spending that much time around the same small group of people every day forces you to become friends, and we still remain a tight-knit group to this day.
Talk a little about a professor or mentor who inspired you.
Several people have inspired me along the way in my college career, so it is difficult for me to pick just one. Some particularly impactful and inspiring experiences occurred during my college summers when I was a counselor at a leadership camp for high school students. I was consistently blown away and renewed by the energy, strength, resiliency, and enthusiasm of my campers and co-counselors.
Tell us about your volunteer/service work and what it means to you.
I consider most of my “service” work to be the work I do for the classroom. This encompasses both my time spent making lesson plans and also my time actually interacting with students. Teaching, to me, means giving people skills and strategies for engaging with the world around them. So that’s what I’m trying to do—get students to think deeply and become their own people. It is a daunting career to undertake, but I am looking forward to it.
Any advice you would give students about how to get the most out of their education?
Talk to your professors outside of class. They have office hours for students, not for themselves. They are great people who would love to help you out. You are paying to attend college, so don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. Also, do the math and calculate how much each individual class costs. Seeing that number will definitely motivate you to go to class.
What do you hope to be doing 10 years from now?
I hope to become America’s first certified organic cat farmer. Hahaha, no, just kidding. Honestly, I have no idea. I try to take my life a day or a week at a time and make the best choices I can. Ask me in 10 years, and I will let you know how I’m doing.
What’s your favorite study space on campus?
I generally try to avoid the library and the Information Commons because they smell like fear and desperation and crushed dreams. If I need to do homework that isn’t very intense, I take a stroll over to Metropolis and camp out for a few hours. However, I mostly just wear my Snuggie and study at my desk in my apartment. Very exciting, I know.
What will you miss most about Loyola?
I’m going to miss seeing the traveling wise men by Mundelein every Advent season. I’ll miss waving at Sister Jean on campus and running along the lakefront. I’ll miss that fleeting moment of panic as you walk through the little gates in the IC and hope that they won’t close on you. I’ll miss walking from Corboy to Sprinkles to get a cupcake after class. I might even miss waiting in line for an elevator in Mundelein. But probably not.
'A blending of theory and practice'
Kelly N. Ferguson, doctoral student in curriculum and instruction, appreciates the programs practitioner-researcher framework.
'A higher role in leadership'
Meet LeViis Haney, a graduate of Loyola's University Chicago's administration and supervision doctoral program in the School of Education.
Dr. Curtis Mason (PhD ’11) reflects on Cultural & Educational Policy Studies program
Name: Dr. Curtis Mason (PhD ’11)
Program: Cultural & Educational Policy Studies (CEPS)
How did you come to pursue your doctorate at Loyola? What about Loyola's program appealed to you?
My then-girlfriend-and-now-wife and I were looking at graduate programs in education. She was the first one to notice the CEPS Program and as I learned more about it, I saw some areas that interested me. I had been teaching high school English, but I was most interested in studying issues of social inequalities with a focus on educational history. CEPS fit that bill. Plus, we loved the idea of studying and living in Chicago.
What parts of your coursework and experiences in the CEPS Program stand out to you?
When I was there it was such a small program that you got to know your classmates and professors very well. I felt that going into a class, everyone knew what everyone was interested in so classmates could encourage other classmates’ projects and professors could help tailor assignments to specific interests.
Tell us about your dissertation project.
I researched the impact of the Cold War on the teaching of English. Specifically, I looked at how the National Council of Teachers of English changed its organizational goals and marketing after the passage of the National Defense Education Act (1958). This was project that started as a paper in my first CEPS course, so I was able to work on areas of it throughout the program. This focus helped me to refine my research and argument while getting continuous feedback from my professors.
What advice would you offer to new or current doctoral students?
I would encourage students to submit to conferences early in the program. There are many organizations out there that are supportive of graduate student research. For those finished with everything but their dissertation, set up a writing schedule and stick to it. I found a regular schedule of a couple of hours a night for a few days a week was more productive then trying to plan to write all day on a Saturday.
Tell us about your current position, your research, your teaching and the other projects you are working on right now.
I’m currently an assistant professor of education at Columbia College (MO). I teach the undergraduate and graduate version of our social foundations course where I draw extensively from my CEPS background at Loyola. I’m at a teaching-focused institution, but research is encouraged. It’s been great to expand on projects that I started in courses at Loyola or pursue new areas utilizing some of the research skills I learned. Currently, I’m researching the history of alternative schools in the Kansas City, Missouri, School District during the early twentieth century.
Learn more about the PhD in Cultural & Educational Policy Studies degree program.
'Great mentoring and guidance from faculty'
Corey Steele, an assistant professor in Loyola University Chicago's School of Education, is also a graduate of the doctoral counseling psychology program.
'I've learned a lot about myself'
Daniel Camacho is a student in Loyola University Chicago's graduate program in counseling psychology, offered through the School of Education.
'Challenging each other, supporting each other'
Devita Bishundat is a student in Loyola University Chicago's higher education master's program in the School of Education.
'Someone that people can count on'
Tamanna Haque, graduate of the MEd/EdS in School Psychology program, prepared her for her career through mentorship, support, and the opportunity to do research.
A role model and inspiration to students
As a first-generation college graduate from the South Side of Chicago, Susana Villagomez knows the meaning of hard work. After graduating from Loyola in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Villagomez stayed to complete her MEd/EdS in school psychology.
Now, in addition to her full-time job as a school psychologist at a community high school in West Chicago, Villagomez is among the first students in Loyola’s new doctoral program in school psychology. Here, she talks about what she enjoys most about her job and why Loyola was a perfect fit for her.
What is the most rewarding part of being a school psychologist for you?
For me, it’s very personal. I work in a school with a high population of Hispanics, and I like to share my story with students. I grew up in Little Village and saw a lot of gang violence and things like that. So it’s rewarding when kids are interested to know how I got where I am.
I’m realistic with my students. I know what’s out there—there’s peer pressure and drugs and things like that. They say, “My family can’t afford college,” and I say, “Mine, couldn’t either, but there’s money out there, and it’s your job to find it.” I feel proud of being able to be a role model for the Hispanic population there.
I’m also really passionate about kids with Down syndrome and intellectual disabilities. I have a sister with cerebral palsy. She’s nonverbal and in a wheelchair and lives at home with us. I grew up seeing my parents have to navigate the world of special education. It’s a lot of paperwork and a lot of information. It’s a benefit being on the other side of the table and relating to the parents of kids with disabilities.
How do you feel your experience at Loyola has been unique?
Going to Loyola was one of the best decisions I ever made. When I compared other programs, Loyola offered a really good variety of classes. It looked like a lot of work, but I knew coming in that there was a reason for that.
Just as in undergrad, I felt that my professors were always there to help me and were willing to work with me. They not only taught me what I needed to learn in terms of psychology, but I really benefitted from professors taking time to go over study strategies. I think it was really significant that they thought it was important that we learn those skills.
What do you hope to get out of the program?
I’m hoping the program opens more doors in the field of education—but also in the mental health profession—so that I can help students be successful. In the past three years, there’s been a big rise in mental illness in kids as young as eighth grade.
I’m hoping to be able to reach out to those families. I’m also fascinated when I get to go to conferences and hear other people talk about their work. That’s something I would like to do as well. In addition, I would like to focus on the bilingual population.
Learn more about the EdD in School Psychology.