Chris Walsh Center
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A center at Framingham State University dedicated to helping families and educators of children with unmet needs.
Introducing Our New Center Coordinator: Dr. Therese Ajtum-Roberts
The Chris Walsh Center is pleased to announce the hiring of Dr. Therese Ajtum-Roberts who will begin in September as the Center Coordinator. Dr. James Cressey will continue to support the center in his role as the Education Department Chair and as a faculty liaison to the center. We are thrilled to have Dr. Ajtum-Roberts joining the center in this leadership position and cannot wait to see how her vision shapes the center's future. Our center assistant, Leighah Beausoleil, spoke with Dr. Ajtum-Roberts to ask her a few questions and prepared the following piece:
Meet the Center’s incoming coordinator: Dr. Therese Ajtum-Roberts
Therese Ajtum-Roberts was hired as the Chris Walsh Center’s new coordinator over the summer. She began the position on Sept. 8 in addition to becoming a Visiting Lecturer in the Education Department at Framingham State University. Her courses for the Fall 2021 Semester include Elementary Curriculum: Science, Social Studies, and Special Needs.
Previous to FSU, Ajtum-Roberts said she has taught at Northeastern University, UMass Amherst, and Becker College. Ajtum-Roberts said she began her education at UMass Amherst majoring in history with a minor in psychology, with a plan to become a high school history teacher in order to “teach kids who learn like me.”
She explained she is neurodivergent - having both dyslexia and ADHD. Ajtum-Roberts said around the time she began her undergraduate degree, education reform was underway and new requirements made it necessary for educators to receive their master’s degrees within five years. Among the first of those required to pass the Massachusetts Tests for Education Licensure (MTELs), Ajtum-Roberts said she struggled to pass the written portion of the test due to the lack of accommodations provided - missing the mark many times by only a few points.
She explained how in high school she would be allowed to write her essays on the computer, which was not permitted for the test. “Even asking for lined paper wasn't an accommodation they were willing to get me,” she added. “They told me I could draw lines with a slide rule on paper. “It just was frustrating because when I did my student teaching I did really well, but I had this test to pass,” Ajtum-Roberts said.
By the time she finished her master’s degree, she had not yet passed the test, she said. She stayed in school for an additional year taking some classes while teaching with her mentor in the Social Studies Department. Around this time, she said, she was being encouraged by professors and peers to seek a doctorate degree, but daunted by the idea of writing a dissertation with her learning disability - she was hesitant. However, she was further motivated with reassurance she would get any help she needs, she said.
“UMass never saw my learning disability as a deficit,” Ajtum-Roberts added. “I never felt like it was a deficit at UMass.” She explained how her professors would go out of their way to point out her strengths - or what she likes to call, her “assets” - as well as the areas in which she had room to grow.
In pursuing her doctorate, Ajtum-Roberts became passionate about educational technology and how it can be used to level the playing field of education as well as promote intercultural learning by connecting with students in other parts of the globe. Connecting classes in Western Massachusetts to those in Central Asia, Ajtum-Roberts posed the question of how to develop students’ global awareness in a way that does not “other differences.” She emphasized how education technology is able to break down barriers by not only providing assistive technology for those with disabilities, but by also breaking down the barriers of the world - allowing for students to see people from a new perspective.
On the same day her dissertation was accepted, she said she received news she had passed the MTELs. Ajtum-Roberts said while studying for her doctorate she saw first-hand more of the barriers facing people within the world of education. She added on one hand, the teachers’ examination acted as a barrier for people who learn like her from becoming educators, and on the other, those who struggled in school subsequently did not tend to want to enter back into the world of education. Following an experience with a mentor, she said she realized not all educators were being taught how to teach students with disabilities - a realization that would soon prompt her undertaking teaching education.
Now that her daughter is struggling in school, Ajtum-Roberts said she is facing difficulty advocating for her not only because “it brings up a lot of memories of the way in which teachers handle me during my education.” But also, because she sees that despite the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 being passed 30 years ago, “not much has happened in the way in which we talk about kids that learn differently in the classroom,” she added. Ajtum-Roberts explained how during the pandemic, the education of students such as her daughter was only worsened, which encouraged her to seek a career where she could align her “purpose” with her “passion” by combining her personal experience with her love for “teaching other teachers how to teach kids differently.” Hesitant before due to how personal special education is for her, she said, “if I'm not willing to be vulnerable and put myself out there to change, then how can I expect anybody else to do this to change the story.” With this in mind, Ajtum-Roberts said she applied for the position at the Chris Walsh Center.
As a Framingham resident, she emphasized how excited she was to be working at FSU and to be working at the Center. “To me, working at the Chris Walsh Center is a dream job,” she added. “I really mean that - it just aligns everything that I'm looking for.”
Check Out Our Recent Events:
The center's final event of the 2020-21 academic year was a talk by Jennifer Hedrington, the 2021 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year. Jennifer has been teaching for 16 years. While attending law school, she found her calling to become an educator. Her teaching philosophy is teaching in color through the lenses of love, which allows her to educate the whole child while celebrating the uniqueness of each student. Jennifer understands that teachers are a powerful motivating force in the lives of students and have the ability to shape society's next superhero or villain.
Jennifer's talk was titled "Teaching in Color Through the Lenses of Love." Teaching in color is more than skin deep. When you look at a beautiful painting, it is not the result of a singular color, but rather the symphony of colors working together to produce the masterpiece. Our students are the masterpieces. They are all more than skin deep or a singular color. Teaching in color allows you to see yourself and others for more than the primary colors that society exploits. When we learn how to see color, we can begin to truly educate the child in a more meaningful and permanent way. Though race is the dominant color, it does not have to be the defining one. Being able to address ALL their colors, allows our students to be receptive to the education and ensures a better learning environment/experience.
A New Website:
Seeking Website Reviewers
The center's new website has been growing each week of the summer, thanks to the work of our interns and staff. Before we launch the new site, we are seeking reviewers to navigate the site and give us feedback. We are especially interested in users with a variety disabilities to test out the accessibility of the site. If you are willing to serve as a website reviewer, please contact us at email@example.com.
Click the blue box above to take our survey about how we can best serve the needs of parents and caregivers!
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