CSUF Student Creative Activities and Research Day

Jennifer Lord and Morgan Scrimpsher were honored at the CSUF Student Creative Activities and Research Day in April for their work on the international research project which was mentored by Drs. Melinda Pierson and Janice Myck-Wayne. Jennifer Lord won the College of Education’s highest honor for best research in the credential student category.  Both students were part of the Germany Study Abroad program in January of 2017 focusing on inclusive education offered through the Department of Special Education.


Department of Special Education International Collaboration Continues

In February of 2017, Drs. Pierson and Myck-Wayne hosted Drs. Schultheis and Hiebl from the University of Eichstaett, Germany. The professors have been working together for the past five years on an international online research project which groups preservice teachers from their two countries as well as 6 additional countries into research groups which focus on key educational issues around the world.  In addition to collaborating with the Office of International Programs on this project, the professors enjoyed school visits, classroom seminars, and workshops about inclusive education.


Lending a Helping Hand in Haiti!

Dr. Melinda Pierson led a group of 6 students to the Lekol Lesqwa orphanage school in Port au Prince, Haiti in May of 2017. Students taught lessons in reading and art and tutored the children in the afternoons.  The group can’t wait to go back!IMG_4781

Reflections From A Fulbright Scholar: Faculty Member Helps Develop International Partnership


By Melinda R. Pierson

As a Fulbright senior specialist, I arrived at Adam Mickiewicz University (UAM) in Poznan, Poland, in late July and spent the rest of the summer working there. Poznan, which is 150 miles east of Berlin in northern Poland, was warm and the university was in full summer mode with faculty collaborating on research projects and graduate students working to get a head start for fall.

Melinda Pierson with two other women.

Caption: Melinda R. Pierson, center, stands between Adam Mickiewicz University Professor Ania Basinska, left, and doctoral student Kinga Ober at UAM in Poland.

I had first visited UAM in October 2010 with a small group of faculty from the Department of Special Education — Kristin Stang and Janice Myck-Wayne — with the intent of building a research partnership. When the faculty there described their education system, we learned of the vast differences between us, especially the way in which students identified as needing special education services were assisted in the schools. It then became our goal to assist with curriculum development in the area of special education. Dr. Stang returned for four weeks in June as a visiting scholar. She participated in school visits, gave lectures to faculty and students, and enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with the education faculty on a research project.

When I arrived as a Fulbright Scholar, it was clear that progress had been made because of our involvement and that the door was open for me to assist in the development of innovative programs. I was excited to learn that the first cohort of 60 UAM students completing a double major in elementary education and special education of children with mild to moderate disabilities will begin their program in this month. This is a direct result of our partnership. The faculty from the Department of Special Education will continue to support UAM’s elementary education program faculty with curriculum development.

Besides the time I spent giving lectures and developing curriculum, I was able to begin collaborating on several research projects. One project focuses on inclusive education and the perceptions of Polish adults about people with disabilities. We hope to demonstrate, through a longitudinal study, that negative opinions of people with disabilities will slowly change as inclusion curriculum is added to the teacher-preparation programs at UAM.

Another research collaboration is an examination of social skills rated as important by classroom teachers in Poland. This is a comparative study with teachers in the United States to determine which social skills are the keys to success in the classroom. Our faculty team will continue to work closely with the faculty at UAM to further develop these two projects.

Plans are currently being made for faculty from UAM to visit Cal State Fullerton and local school districts. We welcome their expertise and reflections.

Melinda R. Pierson is chair and professor of special education.

National Educator Award: Joan Levine Honored for Work in Special Education


Joan Levine, who has faced learning disabilities of her own, has been recognized nationally for her contributions to the education of those with special needs.

Levine, lecturer in special education at Cal State Fullerton, was honored with the 2011 Sam Kirk Educator of the Year Award by the Learning Disabilities Association of America during the organization’s annual conference in Jacksonville, Fla. The award is named in honor of Samuel A. Kirk, a psychologist and scholar in the field of learning disabilities.

“I feel very honored to receive this award. What keeps me going is the support and understanding from all of the people in my life who have given me the opportunity to show that there is more to a person then their disability,” said Levine, who is in her 15th year of teaching on campus. “I prefer to do my job and see the progress of my students. That is all the reward I need.”

Levine’s colleagues lauded her for her dedicated work with students to help them overcome their own challenges.

“The Department of Special Education is incredibly proud of our outstanding colleague, Dr. Joan Levine, for receiving this award,” said Melinda R. Pierson, chair and professor of special education. “She is an amazingly hard worker who definitely deserves this prestigious honor.”

Levine, who is dyslexic and has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), says she has always had difficulties with reading, spelling and math. She struggled through elementary and high school and was not diagnosed until college.

After years of behavior-modification therapy, and with the help of tutors and others, she overcame her own challenges to achieve success.

“I learned coping and compensatory mechanisms that I now share with my students,” said Levine, who holds a doctorate in education and lives in Anaheim.

In her nomination letter from the Learning Disabilities Association of America, California chapter, Levine is characterized as a leader in her field — someone who “truly exemplifies the success that a person with learning disabilities can have if one has the right support for their disability.”

What makes Levine most proud is that she has gained the respect of her peers and students alike. “Today, I am treated with respect, and my ideas are accepted. This is a new experience for me because I have grown up being called names, teased and thought of as dumb, stupid or lazy. That is why I teach, so that doesn’t happen to anyone.”

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Media Contacts:

Joan Levine, Special Education, 657-278-3909 or

Debra Cano Ramos, Public Affairs, 657-278-4027; 657-278-2414 or

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Preparing Teaching Specialists: Grant to Advance Special Education Teacher Program


By Debra Cano Ramos

Big changes are in store for the K-12 special education program with the support of a multiyear, $1.5 million U.S. Department of Education grant.

First-year funding of $295,723 underwrites the “Preparation and Retention of Collaborative, Effective and Successful Specialists” Project led by Kristin Stang, associate professor of special education. The five-year project will overhaul coursework and classroom training experiences for the education specialist credential program in mild/moderate disabilities.

Revisions to course and fieldwork are necessary in order to align with new state standards for the preparation of teachers planning to work with K-12 students with high-incidence disabilities, such as learning disorders, emotional disturbances and mental retardation, said Stang.

Andrew Holmes hands out test papers in a world history class

Caption: Special education credential student Andrew Holmes hands out test papers in a world history class at Brea Junior High School. This fall, Holmes is getting classroom experience as part of a federally funded project to give special education credential students teaching opportunities in general education classrooms. Photo by Karen Tapia

“Special education faculty members are incredibly pleased that this project is being funded. Due to new state standards, we have worked diligently to rewrite our credential program and will continue to have curriculum development needs as we address these standards,” said Melinda R. Pierson, chair and professor of special education.

Moreover, program modifications are needed to meet demand for special education teachers equipped with the content knowledge consistent with state teaching requirements, Stang explained.

“These funds not only come at an ideal time to assist the college in making program changes to meet the dramatic change in state standards, but also will allow us to do more than we initially thought possible due to budget constraints,” she added.

While Stang will serve as project director, and Barbara J. Glaeser, professor of special education, as curriculum coordinator, a number of elementary and bilingual, secondary and special education faculty members will be involved in the five-year effort.

“This is a program grant, and program changes can only occur with the collaborative effort of both full- and part-time faculty,” said Stang, a former middle school special-education teacher who joined Cal State Fullerton in 2003.

“Ultimately, if the efforts of the many faculty working on this project can be the improvement of student outcomes for K-12 students in the schools — in particular those students with high-incidence disabilities — then the work will be well worth the effort.”

Support for Future Teachers

While the grant does not allow for direct financial assistance to students, it will provide additional training and support, including a new tutoring program and more mentoring opportunities and support of early career teachers, as well as enhanced pre-service teaching in general education classrooms.

In today’s schools, there is an emphasis on the use of evidence-based practices in teacher training, in addition to training teachers to work in inclusive settings where collaboration with general education teachers is of vital importance, Stang said.

New courses include six weeks of fieldwork for all teacher candidates in order to practice collaboration and consultation in a general education classroom. Students will work under mentorship with both a general education and special education teacher at school sites. This fall semester, students were placed at more than 19 school sites across the county. (What do credential students feel about the program changes? See the interview with student Jill Pasker.) 

A tutoring center, slated to open in fall 2011, will support teacher candidates in their understanding of content required for the credential program, state credential exams and qualifications to teach mathematics and science.

“Students in our program will be supported in many ways by this grant, but the most exciting addition is the tutoring center to meet all of their needs,” Pierson said.

Additionally, the project will provide other benefits to future teachers in the credential program, including plans to bring in leading special education experts to work with students, faculty members and mentor teachers to ensure highly qualified education specialists, as well as to provide consultant services to specific project initiatives.

“Without the grant, many of these types of opportunities would not have been previously possible,” Stang said. “The bottom line is that this grant project is about the future of our program and subsequently, the future of children with disabilities with whom our trained teachers work to improve their academic, social and behavioral outcomes.”

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Education Professors Offer Guidance and Support to New K-12 Teachers Working With Special Education Students

By Laurie McLaughlin

Part of California’s teacher credentialing program requires new K-12th grade general education teachers to meet certain requirements during their first two years on the job. This “induction” period is intended to provide these new educators with additional skills to manage their classrooms.

“The idea is that they spend the first two years enrolled in an induction program that will provide them with support,” says Belinda Karge, professor of special education. Passed into law five years ago and officially titled the California Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) Induction, the programs are routinely offered by school districts in collaboration with universities. The Cal State Fullerton program, administered by Karge, trains K-12 teachers working with students with special needs in their classrooms.

“Imagine you have a brand new fourth-grade teacher, and she is assigned a classroom of 25 children, and two of them have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. We provide the training for what to do with the children, how to support the child or coach them about the medication they may be taking, all of which helps the teacher manage the classroom in a way that benefits all of her students,” says Karge. “We teach something called ‘positive behavior support,’ modeling how to be proactive in supporting children with special needs in the classroom so that they don’t get themselves into trouble.”

Karge and colleague Barbara Glaeser, chair and professor of special education, work with a consortium of school districts in Walnut and the Inland Empire, as well as the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District. The school districts contract CSUF using funds they receive from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Recently, a $13,959 renewal of the program for a third year from Norwalk-La Mirada USD brought the current contract total with CSUF to $100,000 for the various districts.

Each of the programs for the various districts is different, says Karge. “In Walnut and the Inland Empire, we partner with veteran teachers to lead monthly workshops. Recently, we did one on special education law, which was very successful.” With the Norwalk-La Mirada school district, Karge and Glaeser use the trainer-and-trainer model. “We teach teacher leaders from the district how to administer the special ed standards, and they take it back and teach a group of teachers in their school district,” she says.

The CSUF program services 800 new teachers annually, many of who received either their degree and/or credential from the university. Jamie Highstreet earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies in 2003, an elementary teaching credential a year later and participated in the CSUF induction program.

“I not only learned to help English language learners in my classroom but the other students as well with a multitude of strategies,” says Highstreet, who has been teaching first grade with the Walnut Valley Unified School district for three years. “The fact that teachers are presented with information from many different areas and from a variety of experts makes the experience not only valuable but interesting.”

“I travel up and down the state, and many universities with similar contracts have professors who give a bit of advice to teachers and show up once a month at a meeting,” said Karge. “We’ve established a reputation for having excellent partnerships with our local school districts. With our program, we have a true collaboration, and we really get to have fun and take part in the training of local educators.”

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