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While much of the country is eagerly headed back to school this week, the Morgridge College of Education has one last event before we can move into the fall – and it’s a big event. The summer quarter graduation ceremonies kicked off today, Friday, August 18 with the annual Hooding Ceremony in the Katherine A. Ruffatto Hall Commons. Candidates received the honorary doctoral hood from their faculty advisor. The Hooding Ceremony is a symbolic passing of the torch from one generation of academic doctors to the next.

After the hooding, graduates and their families stuck around for a reception in the commons area. Tomorrow, our 28 doctoral candidates and 59 masters or certificate students will receive their degrees in the annual commencement ceremonies at 8:30 a.m. on the Carnegie Green. Congratulations to all of our graduates, and please visit Flickr to see the entire event photo album.

Earlier this year, masters and doctoral students in the Morgridge College of Education Counseling Psychology (CP) program saw a rising need in their community for social justice and advocacy for underrepresented people. Instead of sitting idly by, the students decided to take action through the creation of the Social Justice Committee with help from faculty members Pat Garriott and Ruth Chao.

Many students attend the CP program here at Morgridge specifically for its focus on issues of diversity and multiculturalism, and while much of our course content currently reflects that focus, many students and faculty feel we could still be doing more, hence the formation of the committee. Since the committee’s inception, they have kept busy with lots of activities and efforts to promote inclusive excellence and create a more equitable and welcoming space for all community members, both on campus and in the greater Denver area. Here are just a few ways they are making an impact:

  • Revamping Curricula: The Social Justice Committee is currently collaborating with faculty to find ways to incorporate issues of power, privilege, and inequity into all of the Counseling Psychology curriculum through possible instructor trainings, and reflective surveys for students where they can provide feedback on their in-class experience, particularly related to socio-political and multicultural climate in the classroom. Their hope is that in the future, curricula across University of Denver (DU) programs will reflect those themes, and provide a space where all students and faculty feel safe.
  • Workshops: They are working with the Center for Multicultural Excellence in hopes of providing training opportunities and workshops for all community members that address these issues. In the fall, several students in conjunction with the Social Justice Committee plan to host one such workshop on “Responding to Microaggressions” (stay tuned for further details).
  • Bias Incidence Reporting: The committee has also taken steps across campus to address issues of social justice, particularly in the reporting of bias-related incidents, and the way in which individuals are described and identified in reports of crime or other incidents. Committee members noticed that bias-related incidents were not consistently reported to the whole university community, and that many reports only identified individuals’ racial and ethnic identity if they were a person of color, and in turn joined the Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT) to address these issues with Campus Safety (who was very responsive to the committee’s concerns). Using counseling skills they’ve learned in the classroom and in practice, the team was able to effectively work with Campus Safety to change the way incidents are reported and improve the relationship between campus law enforcement and students. While this change is a step in the right direction, the committee thinks we can still do more. First year PhD student, Ellen Shupe, who led this effort, had this to say about the process: “Anytime you try to change a system you experience barriers. Hopefully through continued work with the Campus Safety department, we can continue to move in the direction of minimizing racial profiling and the criminalization of people of color on campus. Additionally, we want to make sure that violent acts against people of color are reported and investigated with as much urgency as those against white people.”

The Social Justice Committee currently meets twice a quarter, and they are always looking for new members who are committed to social change. For more information on joining the committee or their current efforts, you can contact PhD student, Eve Faris at eve.faris@du.edu, or subscribe to the Social Justice listserv here.

Three hundred forty-five miles from the University of Denver is the West End School District RE-2. Tucked into the southwest region of Colorado, West End Serves the communities of Bedrock, Naturita, Nucla, and Paradox, covers over 1,000 square miles, and serves approximately 250 total students. Providing education to the rural farming communities, the district faces challenges like any other school district; yet its isolated location brings with it a different set of obstacles when providing the best possible education for students and teachers alike.

Mike Epright, West End’s Superintendent, has made a push and a commitment to maintain quality education. According to West End’s website, the district does so “by providing elevated academic classes, vocational and technical training, and special education programs… Students throughout the district also have the advantage of excellent technology and the opportunity to obtain multiple college credits prior to graduation.”

The district also made a commitment to build capacity through the development of its educators by participating in the Colorado Department of Education Turnaround Leadership Grant Program. The Turnaround Leadership grant, as described by the Colorado Department of Education, “establishes and promotes leadership training specifically for the turnaround environment and is an integral part of Colorado’s state-wide strategy to improve the performance of students in the lowest-performing schools and districts in the state.”

The grant works in two ways: one grant is for the participant (e.g., West End School District RE-2), and one grant is for the provider (e.g., Morgridge College of Education). Together, the entities are able to provide training to educators who can then return to their districts with the tools they need to implement lasting, positive change.

In 2015 two worlds became one as the West End School District partnered with the Morgridge College of Education’s Education Leadership Policy Studies (ELPS) Mountain Cohort. Through this unique partnership, two educators from West End were able to engage in Morgridge College’s ELPS classes in order to expand their personal breadth of knowledge and enrich their district. This fall, another West End educator will join the 2017 Mountain Cohort.

Suddenly, 345 miles was not too far.

“Having the opportunity to develop and implement current research in school improvement, the West End School District has been able to benefit from having two ‘grow your own’ educators take part in the University of Denver’s Aspiring Leaders/ELPS MA Program,” said Epright. “Over the two-year commitment, these two leaders helped shape the instruction and assessment in the district and provided current professional development to staff which shaped a new program change to Project Based Learning.”

Hank Nelson, Morgridge graduate and Instructional Leader at Nucla Elementary School, agrees with Epright. “Participating in the ELPS MA Program was the most beneficial, fulfilling, and impactful experience of my professional career,” he said. “Not one experience failed to be valuable, developing my growth as a leader while indirectly providing a service to the needs of our district. This program made me into an equitable, adaptable, data-driven, innovative, inquiring, and action-research oriented leader.”

An action-oriented leader is exactly the type of leader Epright wants in his schools.

“…through hard work and cooperation, they set a vision of educating each student to the best of their ability,” he added. “I strongly recommend all rural districts reach out to the programming offered!”

The Morgridge College of Education is committed to addressing the needs of both rural and turnaround schools. With its constant adaptation to meet the needs of its students, Morgridge hopes to bridge the divide between distance and hands-on learning. Its Mountain Cohort specifically strives to create an opportunity for rural communities to invest in school leaders who were already part of those communities. In this way, turnaround leadership can organically occur.

The ELPS program, which earned a top 20 ranking in Best Education Administration and Supervision by the U.S. News and World Report in 2016, is now accepting applications for its Mountain Cohort for fall 2017.


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