School of Education NewsLink, Spring 2017

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Message from the Dean

Dean Kevin Zook PhD with StudentsAnother fall semester has flown by, and here we are already in the spring semester of the academic year! The busier we are, the faster the time seems to fly.

As you will see from the spring edition of SOE – NewsLink, here in the School of Education we are busier than ever with our programs, students, and building connections to the surrounding community. In the news that follows, you will read about the service activities of our Education students and the ways that Alpha House serves the University and families in the surrounding community. We congratulate one of our alumnae on receiving a prestigious education award and say good-bye to one of our retiring faculty members. We also congratulate several recent graduates of our doctoral program, welcome a visiting scholar to campus, and recognize our SOE faculty for their recent achievements.

For more details on these stories and more, read on! As always, please send us news of your professional accomplishments to include in future editions of SOE – NewsLink!




Kevin Zook, PhD
Dean, School of Education

Read our Fall 2016 Edition of NewsLink.

Table of Contents

Ed Connections: Student Service in Action | Faculty Spotlight: Donna Rafter Announces Retirement
Alpha House: Connecting with Families and the SOE | Alumnae Spotlight: Jayda Pugliese Wins Milken Award
School of Education Launches New Program Advisory Group | Global Connections: SOE Hosts Visiting Scholars
Doctoral Students Complete Program | Faculty Achievements | Events and Opportunities

Ed Connections: Student Service in Action!

soe ed connections members

Where can Holy Family students go each week to make connections with the School of Education, the local community, and the local, state and national education profession?
Answer: EdConnections!

Moderated by Dr. Janet McNellis, SOE Associate Dean, EdConnections is a student club that actualizes the Holy Family Core Values and SOE Mission. True to its name, EdConnections focuses on building connections in a variety of ways. Meeting weekly during the semester, EdConnections members develop strong connections with each other through icebreaker activities, which they take turns developing and leading. Members also support each others’ professional progress by sharing tips and strategies for taking required teacher certification tests.

soe cakes for kids

EdConnections members also work to build out-of-class connections with Education faculty and staff. Last Spring, for example, our resident “cake expert,” Dr. Helen Hoffner, worked with the club on the Cakes for Kids event. Dr. Hoffner gave guidance to students who baked and creatively decorated almost thirty cakes and cupcakes, which were then donated to the Loaves and Fishes food pantry for distribution to needy families. More recently, EdConnections also invited our visiting scholar from China, Ms. Yingman Wu, to come to a club meeting to talk about education in China. Ms. Wu, who is a physical education teacher in China, also led the club members and SOE faculty and staff in some TaiChi moves! EdConnections hosted its annual “Thank You” luncheon on November 9 in appreciation for all that SOE faculty and staff do for students.

EdConnections also seeks to build connections with the local community. During the Fall 2016 semester, the club hosted a toiletry drive and collected over 146 items for distribution through Catholic Community Services to children in foster care. EdConnections students also have helped the Autism Cares Foundation with numerous events, including Bingo Night (Southhampton Day care); Race for Resources (Tyler State Park); Halloween Dance (Southhampton Daycare); Holiday Party (Council Rock South); and a Halloween hay ride (Shadybrook Farm).

Finally, EdConnections enables its members to make connections to the broader teaching profession. Guest speakers from various schools, districts and agencies have spoken to the club on topics ranging from classroom management to substitute teaching and job opportunities. In addition, EdConnections serves as the Holy Family Student PSEA group and participates in various district and state-wide events, including the annual Student PSEA Conferences. At these conferences club members attend professional development workshops, complete K-12 school beautification projects, and network with students from other schools.

EdConnections is a busy bunch of students that exemplifies the University Mission and Core Values, especially those of Service, Learning, Respect, and Family. The group also embodies our SOE Mission, which is manifested by a drive for both personal and professional growth and an affirmation of the dignity of each person. For further information on EdConnections or to notify the club about a potential service opportunity, please contact Dr. Janet McNellis at

Faculty Spotlight: Donna Rafter Announces Retirement

soe donna rafter retirement

SOE Associate Professor, Dr. Donna Rafter, has announced her plan to retire at the end of the 2016-17 academic year, concluding seventeen years of teaching at Holy Family University. SOE – NewsLink caught up with Dr. Rafter to ask a few questions about her journey in education, advice for future teachers, and retirement plans . . .

NL: Tell us about your academic preparation. What degrees and certifications have you earned and where did you earn them?

DR: My undergraduate degree is from Holy Family—it was a college back then. I started out as a French major. I don’t know what I thought I was going to do with French. My uncle told me that I would make a good teacher, and so I changed my major to elementary education in my junior year. I then went on to get my master’s degree at Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science (now Philadelphia University) in computer technology. I worked on computers “BHD” (before hard drives)! I earned my doctoral degree in Early Childhood Education at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. It took me ten years! I considered myself a turtle in that race; I just had to cross the finish line. My teaching certifications are in early childhood and elementary education.

NL: What was your teaching experience before you began teaching at the university level?

DR: I taught for thirteen years in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from first grade through sixth grade. My first teaching position was at St. George, a small Catholic school in Port Richmond with just one classroom per grade. The class size was small, too. I think I had 17 fifth graders. I look back now and think how fortunate I was to learn about teaching in such an ideal setting.

NL: What inspired or motivated you to become a teacher?

DR: I didn’t grow up wanting to be a teacher. My Uncle Bob was a computer programmer who helped me with math when I had trouble. He wanted to be a teacher, and one day when we were working on a tough algebra problem, he said, “Donna, you would make a great teacher.” I tucked that idea away and then at the end of my sophomore year of college I changed my major to Elementary Education. Of course that was the start of my teaching “love story.”

NL: What inspired or motivated you to become a teacher of teachers?

DR: Well, I have to be honest here. Jimmie and I had four kids, and I knew we could never afford to send them to college. So after I finished my Master’s degree, I was looking through the want ads and I saw an advertisement for Holy Family College. The Education Division was looking for a part-time faculty member to teach computers in their newly formed graduate program. I always felt I was at the right place at the right time. So I interviewed with Dr. Ruth Sower and she offered me the position on the spot. So that got me thinking . . . “Maybe I can turn this part-time job into a full-time position, and the best benefit would be that our kids could get a free college education.”

NL: When did you start teaching at Holy Family University? What attracted you to Holy Family?

DR: So I started teaching part-time, and Holy Family “loved” me so much that they created a full-time administrative position for me. I worked as an instructional technologist to support the full-time faculty in integrating technology into coursework. Teaching part-time at night, I missed the daily interactions of the classroom. I still remember feeling so down that one day Jimmie sent me a dozen red roses. That card is still taped to my computer: “Cheer up. I love you.” That was when I knew that I had to go back to school to get my doctorate so I could teach full-time, and that became a reality in 2001.

NL: What do you like most about teaching at Holy Family?

DR: Wow . . . that is a really tough question because I love so many things about teaching here. The heart of what I love is the mission and core values, and so I think consciously about how I weave the mission into the rhythm of my every day. Father Mac [Fr. James MacNew, Campus Minister] reminds us to put flesh on the words, and so I think of the little ordinary things that I do as “mission moments.” So this semester I made pancakes for my two morning classes on Halloween, a “mission moment.” Oh, one summer I taught a telescoped storytelling class, and on our last day of the course we had breakfast together and I dubbed it the “Academy Awards.” I got all dressed up, mink and all, and made awards for each storyteller, a “mission moment.” Through my personal life, I have come to realize that life is a precious gift from God, and so I try to live in the moment, the “mission moment.” I firmly believe that through “mission moments” I can make a difference in the life of one person. These differences then have a ripple effect. I cherish the words of Lao Tzu, “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”

NL: If you could give one piece of advice to education students today, what would it be?

DR: Find a way to set yourself apart from other teachers. What is it that you do that makes you different? Be that teacher.

NL: So what have you done to set yourself apart from other teachers?

DR: To stay current as a teacher educator, I work with a second grade teacher and young writers throughout the school year. Working in the field keeps me on top of my game because it opens my eyes to the reality of today’s classrooms, markedly different from my teaching 37 years ago. For example, on Halloween as bags of candy pile high on the windowsill, I listen and write as young writers brainstorm just the right words for “Going on Our Ghost Hunt.” Through these experiences, I work to bring life to the abstract idea of “engaging young learners.” These nitty-gritty classroom interactions then become part of my teaching in the college classroom. My students see that I not only talk the talk, I walk it with them.

NL: What do you like to do in your free time?

DR: Every student I have ever taught at Holy Family should be able to answer this question! My passion for teaching is equal only to my passion for cooking and baking, and I have managed to bring the two together. I have been known to have closing parties at my home in Cinnaminson at the end of the semester. My all-time favorite thing is baking bread. I love the process—taking disparate ingredients such as yeast, sugar, salt, eggs, and flour, and transforming them into a loaf of homemade bread. Nothing smells better than bread baking in the oven. My own kids would tell you we always had bread on snow days. I just loved snow days for that reason. At home my meals are planned on the calendar so anyone visiting can look at the calendar and decide if they want to stay for supper. We never eat the same meal in a month because I love variety and love trying new recipes.

NL: What are you looking forward to doing in your retirement?

DR: I look forward to being with my three grandchildren, Michael, Anna, and Ben. Right now when I walk in the door, Anna walks right past me to see Poppy. She goes to Pop’s house on Fridays. I didn’t grow up with grandparents and so I have a different view. Jimmie has such rich stories about his Pop. So I see how important grandparents are for family life. I want to spend time with them, taking them down to the river, reading to them, playing with them, listening to them—loving them. Now if you ask Jimmie that same question, he would say traveling and, yes, we will travel, but it is not my top priority.

NL: Thank you, Donna, for chatting with us. Congratulations on your long and successful career in education and best wishes for all your future adventures. We will miss you . . . and, yes, we would love to stay for supper!

Alpha House: Connecting with Families and the School of Education

soe alpha house kids

Alpha House Nursery, Pre-K, and Kindergarten has been an important part of Holy Family University and the School of Education for the past 41 years. But do you know why this early learning center is named Alpha House? Forty-one years ago, Elaine Schneitman, the founding director, chose the name because “alpha” is not only the first letter of the Greek alphabet; it also means “beginning.” Alpha House was founded to help young children experience a positive, successful beginning to their school years. Forty-one years later, Alpha House is still committed to that basic mission.

Alpha House is not only a place where young children develop and learn. It also provides opportunities for Holy Family education students to gain first-hand experience working with pre-school children and for SOE faculty members to work with the teachers to plan activities, demonstrate best practices, and implement joint projects.

The philosophy of early childhood education that guides Alpha House builds on The University’s mission and core values and exemplifies developmentally appropriate practice. The teachers and staff at Alpha House believe that children shoule . . .

  • be exposed to an atmosphere of love so they will develop love and respect for God and neighbor;
  • learn to accept and appreciate differences in others;
  • be provided with a proper physical setting to allow exploration and discovery;
  • be provided opportunities for self-expression and auditory development;
  • be provided experiences to enable them to function in a technologically challenging world;
  • be provided with experiences to develop concepts in emergent literacy and number meaning;
  • experience activities and materials that are developmentally appropriate;

This philosophy is brought to life by a talented and dedicated staff. Mary Becker has served as the Director of Alpha House for eleven years. Under Mary’s leadership, Alpha House has experienced steady increases in enrollment. In the current 2016 – 17 academic year, Alpha House is bursting at the seams with 93 children. In its present space, just a short walk down the hill from the SOE in the Education and Technology Center, Alpha House provides two kindergarten classes, a three-day Pre-Kindergarten class and two-day Nursery School, two full-day Pre-Kindergarten classes, and a full-day nursery school. In addition, one administrative assistant helps keep everything running smoothly and two teachers provide instruction in technology, religion, and Spanish.

soe alpha house kidsAlpha House teachers engage the children with meaningful, active learning experiences. For example, as autumn came to our campus, Alpha House children experienced its brilliance through nature walks, stories, songs, and lessons related to the changing seasons. A special unit was created by the teachers to have the children journey back in time to understand the hardships and challenges faced by the first settlers to the new world. They reenacted the voyage of the Mayflower, read stories about friendships with the Native Americans, and took part in cooking a simple feast reminiscent of the first Thanksgiving.

The kindergarten children shared the spirit of the season at the University with their annual Christmas caroling and gave the gift of performing their Christmas Show for children and their families. The children learned the true meaning of Christmas by helping their families pick out special toys for our annual C.H.O.P. Toy Drive.

As the winter months approach, the Pre-K children are busy preparing their hibernation project incorporating STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) lessons to develop thinking, reasoning, teamwork, investigative, and creative skills that they can apply in all areas of their lives.

Alpha House is grateful for the blessings of the season and the opportunity to play an important role at Holy Family University and the surrounding community. You are welcome to come visit and experience the wonder of Alpha House in the New Year!

Alumnae Spotlight: Jayda Pugliese Wins Prestigious Milken Award

soe jayda pugliese

Early in October, the School of Education learned that one of our alumnae and current doctoral student, Jayda Pugliese, had received a prestigious Milken Educator Award. Jayda was the first among up to only 35 educators to be presented with the honor during the Milken Family Foundation’s cross-country tour. This season marked the 30th year of the Milken Awards, which have been described by Teacher Magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching.” In addition to the professional recognition conveyed by the award, Jayda also received a check for $25,000 to spend however she wishes. To honor our distinguished alumna, the School of Education held a reception for Jayda on November 15 in the ETC lobby.

Jayda’s entire collegiate experience has been within the School of Education at Holy Family University! She earned her undergraduate degree in elementary education and special education in 2009 and then returned to graduate with her master’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and Literacy in 2014. Jayda returned yet again to pursue her doctoral degree in the School’s EdD program in Educational Leadership and Professional Studies.

soe jayda pugliese 2The Milken Award is not the only professional recognition that Jayda has received. She currently serves as a Board member of PennTESOL-East, an affiliate of the TESOL International organization. In 2011, Jayda was selected for the Kurt Hahn Fellowship, a year-long initiative that prepares teachers to utilize experiential learning and foster student autonomy. In 2016, Jayda was named a top-ten national finalist for the Best in Education Award.

Since graduating from Holy Family University in 2009, Jayda has held a number of impressive positions. She taught special education and mathematics at the Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School. She was employed by ASPIRA Bilingual Charter School as a special education and ESL coordinator and teacher. Jayda currently teaches fifth-grade math and science at Andrew Jackson Elementary School in the School District of Philadelphia. Always searching for resources to enhance her students’ learning opportunities, Jayda raised over $5,000 for a 3D printer and 3D printing supplies for her classroom. She also assisted her principal with obtaining a grant that provided over $100,000 for technology to support the school’s blended learning initiative, which resulted in Jayda’s being appointed the school’s Blended Learning Liaison.

Jayda has been married for over seven years to Frank Gentile, who is currently pursuing a degree in Business Administration through the accelerated program at Holy Family University. Frank and Jayda have a four-year-old son, Frankie Jr.

Congratulations to Jayda and best wishes for all her future achievements from the School of Education!

School of Education Launches New Program Advisory Group

In November, the SOE held the first meeting of its newly formed School of Education Program Advisory Group (SOE-PAG). SOE-PAG is comprised of representatives from a variety of regional stakeholder groups that have an interest in the quality of our graduates and programs:   public and private schools (teachers and administrators), Intermediate Units, community organizations, SOE alumni, and current SOE students. Chaired by the SOE Dean, the purpose of SOE-PAG is to provide guidance, information, and advice from the field to help inform the School’s decision making regarding new program initiatives, modifications of existing programs, maintaining the quality of existing programs, and the enhancement of our students’ success when they graduate.

At our inaugural meeting, the SOE Dean and several faculty members welcomed twelve Advisory Group members. During the meeting, the group engaged in a spirited and constructive discussion of current topics, issues, and developments from the field. We then asked members to share with us the characteristics of beginning teachers or education professionals that are important to their organizations in the hiring process. Finally, in preparation for the School’s program review by the Pennsylvania Department of Education scheduled for 2019-2020, we asked the group to review and provide feedback on two draft survey instruments that will be used to collect information from schools that host our student teachers and employ our graduates.

The energy, enthusiasm, and rich conversation of the group members who attended will be continued when SOE-PAG meets again in the Spring 2017 semester!

Global Connections: School of Education Hosts Visiting Scholars

In cooperation with the University’s International Affairs Office, the School of Education has been hosting visiting scholars from other countries for several years. Visiting scholars enrich the academic and cultural atmosphere at Holy Family by bringing to campus their unique world views, national identities, research projects, teaching abilities, and personal interests. While here, they have opportunities to interact with faculty and students, work on research projects, make guest appearances in classes, and offer special programs that relate to their academic expertise or home countries.

In the spring 2017 semester, we are looking forward to welcoming a visiting scholar from China. Meng Lyu is a faculty member in the School of Foreign Studies, North China University of Water Resources and Electric Power, in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China. While at Holy Family she will also collaborate with Dr. Roger Gee on a research project to develop a corpus of the defining vocabulary in five online dictionaries for target words in the sixth, seventh, and eighth thousand word frequency levels. That corpus will be combined with an existing corpus of the defining vocabulary of words in the third, fourth, and fifth frequency levels. Meng and Dr. Gee will then complete a corpus analysis of the defining vocabulary of the online dictionaries for target words in the third through eighth thousand word frequency levels to determine the usefulness of the online dictionary definitions for students learning English.

A warm welcome to Meng Lyu from the University and SOE!

SOE Doctoral Students Complete Program in Education Leadership

Since last May’s commencement, five more SOE doctoral students have completed the EdD program in Educational Leadership and Professional Studies, graduating either in Summer or December 2016. Congratulations and best wishes to all!

Ellieen Ancrum Ingbritsen
Dissertation: The Impact of Response to Intervention (RtI) on Referrals for Special Education Services in Secondary Schools
Committee Chair: Dr. Helen Hoffner

Shawn Mark
Dissertation: Identifying the Most Preferred Emotional Intelligence Attributes for School Principals
Committee Chair: Dr. Brian Berry

Dianna Sand
Dissertation: An Examination of Postsecondary Faculty and the Extent of Critical Reading Taught in 100-Level Introductory Biology and American History Courses in Publicly Funded Two-Year and Four-Year Pennsylvania Institutions
Committee Chair: Dr. Kathy Quinn

Faye Schilling
Dissertation: Professional Learning Communities: The Catalyst for Student Achievement in the Common Core Era
Committee Chair: Dr. Janet McNellis

David Tate
Dissertation: Superintendent Perceptions of Summer Learning Loss and Summer Reading Programs
Committee Chair: Dr. Elizabeth Jones

SOE Faculty Achievements in Teaching, Scholarship, and Service

Maria Agnew, Geralyn Arango, Brian Berry, Claire Ann Sullivan, and Roseanna Wright presented at the 2016 PAC-TE conference in Harrisburg. The presentation, Transitioning Graduate Special Education to On-Line and Blended Course Delivery: Content and Pedagogical Considerations, looked at the process used in this transition, lessons learned, and questions about the efficacy of the blended and online course delivery format.

Roger Gee delivered five conference presentations during the fall 2016 semester:

  • Sentence frames: Are they real language? 2016 PennTESOL-East Fall Conference, Glenside, PA (with N. Rivera and Y Chhann).
  • Semantic Prosody of I/we + past tense + me/us verb constructions. International Symposium on Verbs, Clauses and Constructions. Logroño, Spain.
  • Online Dictionaries: Types, Challenges, and Strategies for Use. Plenary Address at the 23rd PERU TESOL Convention, Arequipa, Peru.
  • Beyond “I agree” and “I disagree. 23rd PERU TESOL Convention, Arequipa, Peru.
  • Are You Interested? Or Interesting? 23rd PERU TESOL Convention, Arequipa, Peru.

Pedagogy, Practice and Paperwork: Effectively Aligning Core Knowledge Competencies with Program Coursework in Pre-Service Teacher Education was presented by Kim Heuschkel at the annual fall conference of the Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Teacher Educators (PAC-TE) in Harrisburg. The presentation described the work of Dr. Heuschkel and Mary Mulcahy (SOE doctoral student) on the alignment of Early Childhood Education and Child Development degree courses with the Pennsylvania Core Knowledge Competencies. The work is supported by a grant obtained by Dr. Heuschkel from the Pennsylvania Key, an organization that provides statewide leadership in program quality improvements and professional development supports for early childhood education.

For the past three years, Holy Family University, in collaboration with Messiah College and Penn State Harrisburg, has been studying the use of co-teaching in the student teaching experience. The collaboration was supported by a PA Department of Education Eligible Partnerships Grant, “Project EXCELLENCE.” Patricia Joergensen, SOE coordinator for the grant, presented two sessions at the inaugural National Conference on Co-Teaching in Minneapolis, MN in October, 2016: Supporting Co-pairs through Online and Face-to-Face PLCs (Professional Learning Community) and Everyone Wins: Co-Teaching Benefits for All Participants.

Elizabeth Jones and Dianna Sand (SOE Adjunct Instructor) delivered three conference presentations during the fall 2016 semester:

  • Promoting academic quality through the development of meaningful rubrics for First Year courses. Academic Quality Driving Assessment and Accreditation Conference, Philadelphia.
  • Developing meaningful rubrics for First Year Experience courses. Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers Conference, Myrtle Beach, SC.
  • Critical roles for postsecondary reading faculty. Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers Conference, Myrtle Beach, SC.

Janet McNellis (SOE Associate Dean) and Lisa Belfield from the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (OIRA) presented Me, Myself and I: Self-Assessment as a Means to Enhancing Academic Quality at the Annual Conference on Assessment at Drexel University in September 2016. Later in the fall, they also presented the topic to Holy Family colleagues for Faculty Development Day and for an OIRA “Lunch and Learn” session.

In November, Donna Rafter presented with Tony Applegate (SOE, retired) and Hannah Chai at the Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers (ALER) Conference in Myrtle Beach, SC. The session, A Study of the Writing Attitudes of College Level Students, explored the analysis of data gathered from more than 700 college students and observations about the level of success in conveying to learners both the nature and value of writing throughout their school years.

Roseanna Wright delivered a presentation in December 2016 to the eLearning and Special Education faculty at the University of Leipzig in Leipzig, Germany. The presentation described the key practices developed by Holy Family University to ensure quality design, management, and implementation of blended and online learning courses.

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

Mark your calendars and plan to join us for two upcoming special events:

The Student Teacher and Cooperating Teacher Reception is held at the end of each fall and spring semester to congratulate our student teachers and thank the cooperating teachers who host them in their classrooms. The event is also designed as an opportunity for our SOE alumni to be recognized (many of whom serve as cooperating teachers) and to welcome the student teachers into the field of education as professional colleagues. The spring reception and program will be held on Monday, April 24, 5:00 – 7:00 pm in the ETC Lobby and Auditorium. Please join us for this special event! Please contact Maria Rybicki in the SOE Field Placement Office for more information or to let us know you will be coming: 267-341-3363,  

The School’s annual Educational Research Forum will be held on Wednesday, April 26, 5:00 – 7:00 pm, on the first floor of the ETC building. The Research Forum showcases the completed dissertation research of our doctoral students and the research projects of our SOE faculty. From the prior listing of dissertation titles in this issue of SOE-NewsLink, you can expect presentations on several timely and cutting-edge topics that are relevant to schools and the field of education. A reception with light refreshments begins in the ETC lobby at 5:00, and presentations begin at 5:30. The Forum is free and open to the public. Please join us!