Julia Schleppi shares her experiences as a current graduate intern in the Angela Wilkins Program for Graduate Studies in Education and how the program is preparing her to become a teacher for children with disabilities.
Tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you to apply for the Angela Wilkins Program for Graduate Studies in Education.
I'm Julia Schleppi and I'm a graduate intern in the eighth grade at Carroll School. My mentor teacher is Nicole Jones. What really drew me to the Angela Wilkins Program for Graduate Studies is that it ticked off all the boxes that I needed to tick off. I was teaching in Philadelphia and I knew I wanted to come home to Massachusetts. I fell in love with Orton-Gillingham as an approach when I was a paraprofessional in Brookline. And so I loved that this program had the Orton-Gillingham training as well as the Massachusetts licensure--which I needed--and also the masters of education--which I wanted to get. It was all of the things that I wanted.
A benefit to the master's program is receiving Orton-Gillingham training in addition to the graduate courses. How do you think it will help you in your professional career?
I see it helping me in two ways. Being certified in Orton-Gillingham is a great thing to have on your resume and something that's in demand right now. You can make money outside of a school if you decide to have your own practice or tutor after school. The other way it helps is it gives me this framework from which to approach all education. When I'm teaching a history class or when I'm teaching a math class, I have those skills always in the back of my mind. The O-G approach is a great way to break things down for students and to be intentional. Even if we're reading a math problem, I can encourage students to use the strategies they've learned to break it down.
Talk about the important role that Carroll School instructors and mentor teachers played in your graduate program experience.
That is something that's probably my favorite thing about this program--this feeling like teachers are on my team and see me as a valuable member of the community. Everyone that I have come in touch with at Carroll is willing to help in any way that I need. At the beginning of the year, I was covering a maternity leave in history. I've never taught history before so I was unfamiliar with the content. Everyone on the history team was sharing resources with me while giving me a lot of encouragement to do things my way, because they trusted that I knew my students and how to teach them. It was this perfect balance of letting me do what I know I can do and also supporting me in the ways that I needed.
What has been the most meaningful part of your experience so far?
The most meaningful part of this experience is knowing this is where I should be and what I should be doing at this moment of my life. When I'm teaching the kids and they have those little aha moments and I'm like, "Oh, I was part of that." That makes me feel like I chose the right profession because for me it was a journey to get here.
What was your journey like to get here?
I went to Clark University on the psychology/education track thinking I would be a guidance counselor or school psychologist. After various positions in fundraising, I got a job as a paraprofessional in a Brookline public school working with special education teachers. They were encouraging me to pursue special education because of how I connected with the students. Then, I moved to Philadelphia and worked at a charter school teaching special education. When I was returning home, I knew immediately that I wanted to get my MA licensure and O-G certification. I was looking at programs in the area and the Angela Wilkins Program at Carroll School came up. It was everything that I wanted.
Why was the Orton-Gillingham certification important to you?
At the charter school, we often used boilerplate curricula for middle school students who were struggling. I felt like that approach was not developmentally sound for them. If you are a seventh grader and you're still learning to read, you don't want to be taught to read in the same way a six-year-old is taught to read. What I liked about the Orton-Gillingham approach--versus something like Wilson--is that there's more flexibility to make sure students are getting what they need. If students already know certain pieces, you can move along faster in those areas and then slow down in the areas where they're struggling.
Tell me about some of the graduate courses and how you are applying them in the classroom.
I've taken the formal assessment course and now I'm in the informal assessment class. Having those two lenses into a student is incredibly valuable. As a special education teacher, you are usually handed a formal assessment about the student. It's helpful to be able to interpret all that data, know what kinds of interventions students might need, and keep a pulse on how a student is progressing.
One of the really wonderful things about this program is that all of the people from whom we are learning have had their feet on the ground in schools. Our assignments feel relevant, not as if I'm doing homework for the sake of it. Because I'm working with students directly and intimately, it's helpful for me to practice analyzing their data, making recommendations for them, and then putting those recommendations into practice. It's all the work that I would be doing if these were my students and I was teaching them. And in this case, they are my students and I am teaching them.
What do you hope to do with your degree?
I want to teach students with learning disabilities. When I was teaching in Philadelphia, I knew that I was making a difference for kids yet I also felt that there was so much more that I could learn. There was a gap between what I could provide versus what I am able to provide. That gap is shrinking now. I have more knowledge, more skills, and I'm better able to apply both in the classroom setting. So I'm looking forward to after this program being a much better teacher than I was at the start.
Watch highlights from the interview here: