A High-Five for HyFlex: Holy Family University Special Education Professors are Tag-Teaming Success in Attracting, Preparing and Retaining the Next Generation of Special Educators

For two professionals who have been in the education game for a combined 100 years, Holy Family University’s Dr. Roseanna Wright and Dr. Claire Sullivan have embraced the fairly new phenomenon of HyFlex learning, and the technology and flexibility that comes along with it, with the exuberance of youth.  Step into their classroom in the University’s Education and Technology Center where they co-teach upper-level undergraduate special education students, and graduate students seeking special education certifications, using a HyFlex model, and you will see masterful multitasking and enviable innovation.  In a format they have been teaching in for the past three years, the pair serve as instructors on-site in the classroom.  Some of their students are there with them.  Some of them are participating virtually and are visible on a large white screen.

“Several weeks ago, we had a student participating remotely because she didn’t have a babysitter for her nine-month-old daughter,” Sullivan said. “We all got to see the child in her valentine jammies, in her high chair, and we went on her walk with her.  This is the future, and anyone who thinks we are going back, in not paying attention.”

Sullivan and Wright are using a recent $100,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education to beef up the HyFlex program for some 50 students who are currently seeking their Pk-12 special education certification or dual certification. Their classroom has been outfitted with two ceiling microphones, a webex-ptz room camera, a heads-up monitor, a viewsonic touch monitor board and Jabra tabletop microphones, a buffet of technology that allows in-person and remote students to participate fully and collaborate seamlessly when they pivot to breakout sessions. The Holy Family IT staff provided the installation, setup and training and also maintains the equipment. The teaching duo takes every opportunity to sing the praises HyFlex learning.  They have shared their success at an international conference in Florida and will be among presenters at the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s upcoming state conference at month’s end.

“The grant money allowed us to take a hard look at some of the courses and make improvements,” Wright said.  “Some of the money will be put toward student scholarships, some to technology, and some to faculty-led workshops on areas that students in the program find challenging or where new competencies, like structured literacy, are soon to be required.  The grant also is funding a stipend for a newly hired mentor, Christopher Nevrincean ’14, M ’18 (a 2022 Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award recipient), who knows everything about Holy Family University and knows what is needed in the field. He is a great resource.

“Because of the need for special education teachers, students who are coming in under a graduate program are not typical because so many schools are filling classrooms with emergency certified teachers,” she said.  “They are often less experienced, new to education.  They are thrown into some very challenging situations.”

“I think it is fair to say that the need for more special education teachers comes from the increase in diversity in the general education classroom – not just culture and language, but also ability,” Sullivan added. “From what we hear, principals, superintendents, hiring teams are looking for people who have the broadest preparation for teaching the broadest demographic of students.  In addition to tightening the curriculum, we have introduced learning communities to make this experience even more effective and successful. So far, the feedback from our students, and from our own observations, has been that the learning communities have been the game-changer.”

“Dr. Wright and Dr. Sullivan are the most entertaining teachers we have, by far,” said Olivia Cremonese ’24, who will be graduating with a PreK-12 special education certification.  “They are hilarious, and they call each other out, but all in good fun. We all feel very comfortable because our professors care about how we want to attend class.  They care about our learning.”

“Roseanna and I are very committed to developing teachers who can be in classrooms and serve kids and help them to be successful, and we are committed to not going back to some of the places we were historically,” Sullivan said.  “Holy Family has a really long history of producing teachers, because we do a good job.  The grant keeps us going, and through the incentive and motivation of the grant, we get a piece of reflection to see how far we have come. “

“I have been in education for 50 years, and I can tell you that the program that Roseanna and Claire are directing is a very unique model.  It is unique in the city and in the state,” said Interim Dean of the School of Education Dr. Alan Arroyo.  “It is powerful to watch them operate and engage with their students, and it is also powerful to witness the intentional carryover when Holy Family graduates bring these skills into their own classrooms.”

“Of course, we are biased,” Wright said.  “We feel like that when you get a special education certification, you are a better teacher, a more effective teacher.  You know how to meet the individual needs of students.  You are a super teacher who can teach all kids.”




Jan Giel