Carlow's Education Department

Summer Newsletter, 2020

...where we are.

The further I wake into this life, the more I realize that God is everywhere and the extraordinary is waiting quietly beneath the skin of all that is ordinary. Light is in both the broken bottle and the diamond, and music is in both the flowing violin and the water dripping from the drainage pipe. Yes, God is under the porch as well as on top of the mountain, and joy is in both the front row and the bleachers, if we are willing to be where we are.

from The Book of Awakenings by Mark Nepo

Where We Are...

Where we are, and how we center ourselves in this time of turbulence and change, matters greatly. Carlow’s founding by the Sisters of Mercy grounds our mission in the work for equality. As we grieve with the nation over the past two months, we do so with resolve and determination; a just and merciful world is possible for all. The work of social justice is organized around Five Critical Concerns as encapsulated by the Sisters of Mercy graphic below. The Sisters of Mercy and Carlow University welcome all into our diverse community of faiths and cultures to do the work we are called to do.

Big picture

Social Justice in Education

The opportunities to advocate for social justice in education are numerous, and many factors directly impact marginalized populations:

· Access to high-quality and affordable child-care for families in poverty

· Lack of educational degree completion options for adults working in child-care resulting in impoverished wages

· Lack of diversity in the teaching force, particularly teachers of color

· Over-representation in special education of children of color and children in poverty

· School-to-Prison pipeline for children of color

· Victimization of individuals with autism spectrum disorder from the criminal justice system as a result of misunderstanding behaviors and communication deficits

As an Education Department of committed faculty and staff, we strive to ensure our undergraduate and graduate students understand these challenges. But understanding is not enough. We must ensure our students, prospective teachers, educators and educational leaders are equipped to actively engage in the disruption and dismantling of structural systems of discrimination and oppression maintaining these practices.

Social justice is love in action.
It is addressing political, legislative, and societal systems that impact educational design.
It is advocating for the children and adolescents in our charge.
It is clearly articulating and advancing educational research.

It is supporting student voice and choice.

It is empowering marginalized communities and families.

It is teaching grounded in science and culturally and linguistically responsive practices.

It is trauma-informed pedagogy and restorative teaching.

This month's newsletter highlights special education and the calling of educators to work with children, adolescents, and adults with varying disabilities or exceptional learning, physical, or emotional needs. Special educators understand the work they have undertaken is often challenging but incredibly rewarding. From working with children with emotional and behavioral disorders in a separate school to teaching students with dyslexia using a specialized reading program or teaching life skills to students with intellectual disabilities, our students experience the range of special education services, placements, and exceptionalities. We honor those who choose this profession and we celebrate the students who pursue this career.
Big picture

Special Education as a Calling.

This past year, the PA State Department of Education issued new guidelines for the preparation of special educators. With State legislative changes, certification in special education is now PreK-12th grade. Those who wish to be a special educator no longer need to have a general area of certification or teacher license. We offer special education (with certification PreK-12) as part of our undergraduate program and as a stand-alone program at the graduate level. Earn your MEd in Special Education with a bachelor's degree in any field. If your calling is to support and teach children and adolescents with disabilities, we welcome you. Our programs are relationship-centered and social-justice focused. Connected. Caring. Compassionate. CARLOW.

Meet Mrs. Melva Gooden Fair

Carlow Graduate: Class of 1982 Elementary & Special Education

Big picture

Melva was instrumental in ensuring these new inclusive environments were supportive and beneficial for all. The values nurtured at Carlow were the seeds of the inclusive movements we see today in the programming at CLASS.

Melva Gooden was a shy, reserved young woman when she came to Carlow College in 1978 to study special education. She knew she wanted to pursue a profession that would let her help others. She briefly considered nursing, but the sight of blood made her queasy. Her cousin Curtis, who was deaf, communicated through sign language, yet no one in the family knew any signs; consequently, he had to read everyone’s lips. As a child, this puzzled Melva because Curtis was so smart, and she believed that someone in the family should take the time to learn more.

Today, Melva (Gooden) Fair is the Chief Executive Director of CLASS - Community Living and Support Services (previously United Cerebral Palsy) in Pittsburgh ( She exemplifies Carlow’s mission of service and social justice, and she is a treasured alumna of our special education program. Most students who graduate from our teacher certification programs pursue a teaching career in traditional school settings. And although this was Melva’s initial intention, her career took a different path because she embraced opportunities that made themselves available along the way, and she continued to expand her knowledge through multiple professional opportunities.

How does a young, shy female become the director of one of the largest non-profit agencies serving vulnerable populations in Pittsburgh? Here’s her story: The United States experienced an economic recession beginning in 1981. This dampened Melva’s prospects for securing a local teaching position after she graduated from Carlow in 1982. She received multiple offers for teaching positions out-of-state or away from Pittsburgh. As Melva tells it, her mother was having none of it! She would need to stay close to home.

A valued professor, Rob Flury, suggested Melva consider community living centers where she could follow her passion for helping people. In October 1982, Melva accepted a position at United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) as a residential counselor. She knew she could use her teaching skills to develop programming around cooking, creating a budget, and managing a home. This opportunity allowed her to further develop her professional skills while maintaining her values of respecting elders and treating people equally regardless of ability status. This was an interesting time in our country for individuals with disabilities too. As a result of changes from the Civil Rights Movement and legislation passed to promote inclusive practices, institutions, which had previously housed individuals with disabilities, were being dismantled. Community housing and centers were created to provide care and services in a natural setting. Melva was instrumental in ensuring these new inclusive environments were supportive and beneficial for all. The values nurtured at Carlow were the seeds of the inclusive movements we see today in the programming at CLASS.

Big picture

Melva credits Carlow with developing her voice; she now uses her voice and platform to speak-out about injustices in our communities and to advocate for those who are not able to speak for themselves.

Melva continued to expand her knowledge and the services provided by UCP by taking a position as one of the first instructors on the newly established brain injury team in 1984. She designed a curriculum to manage behavioral challenges by supporting individuals to develop compensatory strategies. This position also allowed her to utilize her interest in the systematic approaches to teaching and apply these to adult education. She became very involved in programming to assist adults in developing their literacy skills, especially adults living with traumatic brain injury and aphasia. It wasn’t long before Melva was asked to coordinate the Brain Injury Program which included the responsibility of training staff how to work with individuals recovering from TBI.

Over the years, Melva took on additional responsibilities for programming at UCP and was part of the team that made the change to Community Living and Support Services (CLASS), a change that better reflects the mission and vision of the organization. Melva rose to the position of Chief Professional Officer and was responsible for managing all of the programs. When Al Condeluci retired as the Chief Executive Director of CLASS, a position he held since 1991, the board of directors knew that they could rely on Melva Fair to take the organization in the right direction. Her commitment and dedication to serve people in the community and to do so with respect and dignity assures her ability to lead the organization into the future.

Melva lives in Penn Hills with her husband Michael. Her son, Lamar Ledbetter is a Counseling Psychology major at Carlow. She credits Carlow with developing her voice; she now uses her voice and platform to speak-out about injustices in our communities and to advocate for those who are not able to speak for themselves. She encourages Carlow students to do the same and to take advantage of all opportunities that present themselves – to take risks! You never know what doors may open for you and you never know where you will end up. Who would have thought that a shy kid would have ended up having the impact that she has had for so many!

Best Buddies Chapter at Carlow!

Harley Vincler loved the time she spent with her Best Buddie!

Harley, a recent graduate of Bethel Park High School in the South Hills, became actively involved in the Best Buddy program while in high school. As an incoming freshmen Education major and collegiate soccer player at Carlow, she contacted Dr. Susan O'Rourke, Special Education Professor, about starting a chapter at the University.

Best Buddies was founded in 1989 by Anthony K. Shriver. He recognized the need for opportunities to promote inclusion of all individuals regardless of ability status. There are over 3,000 chapters worldwide – and now one more will be added at Carlow!.

Big picture

Harley (left) with her high school Buddy.

The Best Buddies Program has two types of members: Peer Buddies and Associate Members. Peer Buddies connect with their buddy once a week to talk, and once a month they get together to do an activity. Associate members gather with the rest of the club for once a month activities.

According to the Best Buddies website (, college programs:

“Foster one-to-one friendships between college students without IDD and their peers on campus or in the community with IDD. Young adults with IDD historically have been isolated at home or in work environments. The Best Buddies Colleges program is changing this by providing the opportunity for people with IDD to be involved in their local campus and community life.”

"We are excited to bring this new opportunity to Carlow. It is an opportunity which aligns to our university’s mission, provides opportunities to develop leadership skills, and develops long-lasting relationships," explains Dr. Susan O'Rourke.

Students who are interested in becoming a Founding Member at Carlow should contact Harley at: or Elaina Tkaczenko at:

Join Today! You could make best friends for life!
Big picture

Jordan Coccaro: Graduate Student in Special Education

Jordan Coccaro graduated from Carlow University with her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education in 2019. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Jordon attended Pittsburgh Public Schools from kindergarten through high school at Brashear. She has always wanted to pursue special education teaching as a career. “I want to make a difference and help children become the best versions of themselves. Special education has always held an important place in my heart. I have a younger cousin diagnosed with Autism. We have always had a special bond; anytime I could help him with something or ease his anxiety, I would. Seeing some of his struggles inspired me to pursue teaching to positively impact and empower children.”

Big picture

When it came time to select a graduate program, Jordan didn’t hesitate. She again chose Carlow for her master’s degree in special education. “Carlow has given me amazing opportunities to have real experiences in the classroom through our field placements. I had the opportunity to conduct one of my extensive field placements at the Children’s Institute. This placement allowed me to learn about interventions, data collection, and how the flow of a special education classroom should be designed. In my five years at Carlow in the Education Department, I will always remember how supportive all of the faculty and staff are of their students.”

Jordan will be an incredible special educator, and we have loved working with her in our program. Best wishes as you complete your degree and pursue teaching!

Meet Dr. Rachel Owens!

2008 Carlow graduate in History Education & 2010 MEd graduate in Special Education

Big picture

For the last 4 years, Dr. Rachel Owens has worked as the Director of Special Education at Provident Charter School. Provident Charter School is the only public charter school in Pennsylvania designed to meet the needs of students with dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities. Rachel considers herself fortunate to have been an integral part of the development of the school.

Prior to teaching, Rachel studied history education and special education at Carlow University where she earned her bachelor’s (‘08) and master’s (‘10) degrees. After graduating, she worked in the North Hills School District as a high school special education teacher. In 2018, Rachel earned her doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh.

A native Pittsburgher, Rachel loves to travel, but chose to attend college in her hometown to be close to her family. The small class sizes and convenient location made Carlow University the perfect fit. After completing a Semester at Sea in 2006, Rachel returned to Carlow University to complete her bachelor’s degree. When deciding to attend graduate school, Carlow University was a natural choice, not only because of its familiarity, but also because of the various degree options. During both degree programs, Rachel had several professors whose teaching influenced her career goals including Dr. McMahon and Dr. O’Rourke, both of whom are still teaching at Carlow University and providing future educators a quality education.

Rachel’s personal life is as busy her professional life. She and husband have two young daughters, McKenna age 8 and Tatum age 7, who love taekwondo, soccer, and swimming. During her freetime, Rachel is either listening to stand-up comedy on Pandora, listening to murder mystery books on Audible, or reading educational books.

Rachel is a life-long learner whose personal goal is to travel with her family and professional goal is to positively influence the lives of students with special educational needs. Her advice to any new educator is to “reflect on your own practices and listen to the advice of others.”

Carlow University’s Teacher Preparation Program partnered with Provident Charter School on a summer internship practicum experience (in 2019) and several faculty at The Campus Lab School have attended Wilson Reading training at Provident.

Earn Your Autism Endorsement at Carlow!

Through a four-course sequence, students become familiar with the theories and methods proven to be successful in working with the ASD population.

The first course in the sequence, SPED 773: Positive Behavior Supports PK-12 provides a foundation of Applied Behavioral Analysis, including conducting Functional Behavior Assessments (FBAs) and designing Behavior Interventions (BIPs).

The second course, SPED 760: Communication and Assistive Technologies focuses on typical challenges for students with ASD in developing effective communication and provides an in depth exploration of the various assistive technologies including augmentative communication systems that improve opportunities for students to access the general education curriculum or to develop functional communication skills.

The third course, SPED 778: Autism, explores the evidence-based practices for teaching children who are on the spectrum including Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), TEACCH, Early Start Denver Model, Discrete Trial Training (DTT), Verbal Behavioral Intervention (VBI), Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), and Pivotal Response Training (PRT).

The final course in the sequence, SPED 788: Applied Issues in ASD, addresses professional ethics, co-morbidity and medications, and parental collaboration. Central to the final course is the opportunity to apply the methods previously explored in a classroom or therapeutic setting.

*An endorsement from PDE can only be added to an existing teaching license. The four-course autism sequence is open to any interested person, but the assignment of an endorsement can only be conferred by the PA State Department of Education for already certified educators.

For more information, visit:

The Art of Teaching Magic in Special Education

Big picture

Special Education teachers are always seeking new ways to connect with students and to make learning relevant and fun, especially for children who learn differently. Learning a magic trick and perfecting a performance for family and friends has proven to be an effective approach to encourage development of a range of skills including fine and gross motor (to perform the trick), communication (to tell a story), cognitive (to recall the steps), social (to engage the audience) and creativity (to adapt when things don’t work out the first time.)

Kevin Spencer (pictured above), a world renowned illusionist with accolades including Magician of the Year (2015) and Entertainer of the Year (multiple times), has developed curriculum, Hocus Focus, for special education teachers and occupational and speech and language therapist to address these needs through magic. As an adjunct professor at Carlow, he teaches the Arts for Special Populations course which explores his philosophy of the power of the Arts to transform students’ learning. He uses weekly interviews in this class to introduce students to accomplished artists and entertainers from around the world, and they share their approaches to harnessing the Arts in their teaching. We asked Kevin to share his thoughts on his life’s work.

Big picture

Kevin Spencer, a world renowned illusionist with accolades including Magician of the Year (2015) and Entertainer of the Year (multiple times), has developed curriculum, Hocus Focus, for special education teachers and occupational and speech and language therapist to address special needs through magic.

“The art of teaching continues to evolve as we confront the challenges of engaging our students with special education needs in learning. This will be especially true as we reimagine our classrooms and our teaching practices after the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. High quality differentiation should be the distinctive feature of high quality teaching, but students with learning challenges require something more than merely curriculum differentiation. Researchers suggest that one of the best predictors of successful learning is engaged behavior. Now more than ever, we must find ways to transform our students with disabilities into active learners by providing opportunities for them to release their motivation, unlock their curiosity, and increase their participation.

Researchers have identified seven different aspects of engagement that make it an accessible concept: awareness/responsiveness, curiosity, investigation, discovery, anticipation, initiation, and persistence. The arts have consistently been shown to engage curiosity, and arts-integrated approaches may be one method of addressing these seven aspects while improving learning outcomes. Researchers reported that when students are allowed to complete a task or show understanding in a way that allows for creativity and self-expression, they are more motivated to learn and experience less anxiety. Studies at the University of Michigan revealed that children who explore the link between their creativity and curiosity are more likely to be better students. Providing students with stimulating classroom activities using an arts-integrated approach offers novelty, surprise, and complexity, allowing greater autonomy and student choice.

Carlow University offers our students a course that explores how various arts disciplines can be used to instruct students with disabilities. One of those disciplines that has received little attention in the literature is that of magic. Magic has been around for thousands of years and is, perhaps, the oldest of all performing arts. References of magicians performing in the Courts of the Pharaohs date back as far as 5000 B.C. Primitive drawings of magicians practicing their trade can be found on cave walls in Northern Spain and Southern France and magicians performed in the streets and marketplaces of ancient Rome and Greece.

Big picture

"Providing students with stimulating classroom activities using an arts-integrated approach offers novelty, surprise, and complexity, allowing greater autonomy and student choice."

People’s fascination with magic is demonstrated by the success of Harry Potter. We recall how, as children, we made up our own imaginary worlds and often gave ourselves magical powers. Magic challenges the logical way that individuals think. People love the feeling of wonder that witnessing magic gives them. This fascination is the product of our curiosity, the same attribute that lures us in, captures our imagination, and causes us to query the secret to the magic. People intently dissect the magician’s every move, looking for that moment when trickery becomes magic, to be left wondering and quietly exclaiming - "No way!" If we could only know the secret, we could practice, perform, and impress our family and friends.

Curiosity is a powerful motivator and it is that characteristic that makes magic such an effective tool for teachers. It is the learning, mastering, and creative story process that makes performing magic an amazing way to engage our students while delivering functional and academic content. Students voluntarily use parts of their body and mind in different ways, encouraging and promoting learning. When a teacher gives their students the ability to do something that cannot be equaled by their peers - like a magic trick - it can become a powerful motivator for them to show resilience while working through the physical, cognitive, and social challenges they also face.

Magic can work on skills like socialization and communication because magic tricks are meant to be performed for an audience. Much like storytelling, magic allows the person performing the trick to create his/her own narrative. Magic taps into the cognitive processes - the planning and sequence of steps. Magic tricks are effective in increasing a student’s ability to manipulate objects, as well as gross motor skills - magic allows mastery of the environment without requiring skillful hand movements. Magic provides cognitive and perceptual challenges and can be used to increase frustration tolerance, task follow-through, concentration, cooperation, and impulse control. Magic may have a significant impact on neurodevelopmental functions, such as neuro-motor, attention, memory, language, temporal-sequential ordering, spatial ordering, social cognition, and other higher order cognition.

"Magic has been around for thousands of years and is, perhaps, the oldest of all performing arts."

The learning and performing of magic tricks can allow students to safely explore their skill level while providing a fun way of reaching functional and academic goals, regardless of ability or function. When teachers use magic tricks to engage their students in learning, they offer a fun and motivating way to develop the necessary skills required to perform the trick for others. Because of the level of engagement, it is often an activity students will continue outside of the classroom. They will carry it home and continue to improve, taking every opportunity to show their friends and family the skills they have acquired exhibiting a sense of pride and belonging. At the same time, they reach many of the goals identified in their IEP, often without even being aware of it.

In our quest to explain the value of teaching magic tricks to children with disabilities, Carlow faculty conducted a psychometric investigation and subsequently developed an instrument to capture student progress in five domains; cognitive, communication, motor, social and creativity. An app was developed for teachers to easily record data on a hand held device and share results parents and therapist using easy to interpret graphs. The results are clear, teaching students to perform magic tricks is a powerful way to expand their functional skills. And they have a fun way to initiate conversations with their friends and family. This builds their confidence for full participation and promotes inclusion in their communities.”

Big picture

Thank You!

In June, we welcomed fifty three educators from across the region and three different countries to our virtual workshop, Tools and Technology for Supporting Students with Dyslexia. Special thank-you to Mrs. Jackie Smith, Director of our Carlow University Disability Services for her presentation with Dr. Keely Baronak, Education Department Chair. Our students have access to incredible adaptive and assistive technology including Read & Write Gold, Sensus Access, and Readable pens at Carlow University.

We will continue to offer a robust professional development series in 2020-2021! Stay-tuned for a year-long schedule of interactive and engaging workshops offered free to area educators beginning in August.

Interested in Dyslexia and Teaching Reading?

Big picture

Windows and Mirrors. Children's Literature About (dis)Abilities

“All students deserve a curriculum which mirrors their own experience back to them, on occassion- thus validating it in the public world of the school. But curriculum must also insist upon the fresh air of windows into the experience of others — who also need and deserve the public validation of the school curriculum.”

Style, Emily. “Curriculum as Window & Mirror.” Listening for All Voices: Gender Balancing the School Curriculum.Summit, NJ: Oak Knoll School, 1988. 6– 12. Print

Below are some of our favorite books for children and teenagers featuring a diverse array of (dis)Abilities.

Special Congratulations to our Graduates!

Since we couldn't celebrate in person this year, we brought the celebration to the front lawns of our amazing Education graduates! These are just a few of our Spring and Summer 2020 graduates ! We wish you well. You always have a home here at Carlow!

Preparing Educators and Leaders Since 1929.

We believe in the transformational power of education. We celebrate diversity, champion social justice, and work tirelessly to address issues of equity in education. Our conceptual framework of Scholar Practitioner comes alive through coursework, practicums, research, and community-based service. Whether you are a recent high school or college graduate, mid-life career changer, or a veteran educator, we invite you to join us.

Have a wonderful and safe summer! See you in August.

Big picture