Get To Know Us

Phil S. Strain, PhD
Dr. Phil S. Strain is James C. Kennedy Endowed Chair in Urban Education at the Morgridge College of Education and Director of the PELE Center, University of Denver. He is the author of over 300 scientific publications, has served on the editorial boards of 22 professional journals and has been Principal Investigator or Co-Investigator of grants and contracts totaling over 80 million dollars. He is particularly interested in expanding inclusive preschool options, comprehensive services for young children with autism and prevention and intervention for children with challenging behaviors.

Barbara J. Smith, PhD
Dr. Barbara J. Smith is a Research Professor in the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. Dr. Smith’s areas of interest include policies and systems in early intervention, early childhood special education and early care and education, as well as leadership, professional development, and collaboration. She has been an early childhood teacher; Executive Director of the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC); Policy Specialist, CEC; and Program Specialist, US Office of Special Education Programs. Barbara has worked with NAEYC and other early childhood leadership organizations to help shape quality inclusive early childhood environments and the policies and guidelines that support them. She has published widely on the topic of EC policy and systems including The Preschool Inclusion Toolbox: How to Build and Lead a High Quality Program published by Brookes that has been used by local inclusion teams in several states to systematically increase inclusive opportunities for children with disabilities.  Dr. Smith has presented testimony to state legislative and US Congressional committees, provided consultation to states on state policy and mentored doctoral and post doctoral scholars in early childhood policy and practices. She serves as faculty on the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI) and the national Early Childhood Technical Assistance (ECTA) Center, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pyramid Model Consortium. In her work on the Pyramid Model national TA centers, and most recently with the ECTA center, she has focused on developing a state approach to implementation and scale-up of evidence-based practices. This approach has been used by over 20 states in initiatives to implement the Pyramid Model, the DEC Recommended Practices, and high quality inclusive services.

Edward (Ted) Bovey, MA
Edward (Ted) Bovey is the Associate Director of the PELE Center at the University of Denver. Ted has worked with young children with autism, children with developmental disabilities and families for over 20 years as an inclusive preschool teacher, early interventionist, researcher, trainer and consultant.  Ted currently works on several state and Federal projects training early childhood professionals in the use of evidence-based practices for young children with ASD, the LEAP Preschool Model, inclusion for young children with disabilities and in the implementation of the Pyramid Model a classroom-based version of Early Childhood Positive Behavior Intervention and Support.

Ron Roybal
Ron Roybal is currently working at the University of Denver for the Morgridge College of Education, after 15 at the University of Colorado Denver. His responsibilities have included the LEAP USA and LEAP Outreach projects, the Professional Development in Autism project, the Colorado Autism Project, TACSEI and CSEFEL. He presents at national challenging behavior conferences and professional development / staff development days around the country. Trainings include building relationships, classroom organization and management strategies, social emotional teaching strategies and understanding and reducing challenging behaviors. Prior to being an educational consultant, Ron was a teacher in an early childhood inclusive classroom for students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and typically developing students. His extensive experience in inclusive classroom settings as a teacher and coach for children with special needs and children at risk or with challenging behaviors bring a unique perspective as a trainer and coach.

Johanna Berry Wasser MA, ECSE,
Johanna Wasser has dedicated her professional career to promoting social emotional competence and inclusion practices in early childhood education for over 20 years.  She received her Master’s in Early Childhood Education and maintains her license as an Early Childhood Special Educator since 2006.  Johanna has worked with children, families and professionals in a variety of settings including home, community, early childhood programs, and public school districts.  Before joining the University of Denver, Johanna was employed at the University of Colorado Denver from 2009-2018.  Her roles included Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator for Pyramid Plus Center, research assistance for the Prevent Teach Reinforce for Young Children (PTR-YC) and LEAP Model consultant.  When Johanna is not hard at work she enjoys spending time with her family and playing in the mountains.

Jaclyn (Jackie) Joseph, PhD, BCBA,
Dr. Jaclyn Joseph is an Assistant Research Professor at The University of Denver, where she works here at the Positive Early Learning Experiences Center. Jackie is involved in a number of projects at the PELE Center that include research and technical assistance on the LEAP Model, Pyramid Model, Prevent Teach Reinforce for Young Children, and Prevent Teach Reinforce for Families. Jackie’s professional and research interests include young children with challenging behavior and interventions for improving their social-emotional competence. She’s also dedicated to promoting and advocating for high-quality inclusive early care and education opportunities for all young children and especially for her determined, strong, and amazing little girl who has a rare genetic disorder.

Alissa Rausch, EdD
Dr. Alissa Rausch is an Assistant Research Faculty Member in the Positive Early Learning Experiences (PELE) Center at the University of Denver.  She has worked as clinical faculty in the early childhood and early childhood special education licensure program at CU Denver. Her work in higher education blossomed from 15 years of practice as an early childhood educator working in inclusive preschool classrooms serving young children and their families. Alissa also had the privilege of serving children from diverse backgrounds and their families in their homes and in community settings. Her current work centers on supporting preservice and in-service practitioners to build their capacity to act as agents of social change and implement quality inclusive practices for young children in the field of early childhood education.

Abby Hodges, M.Ed., BCBA
Abby Hodges, M.Ed., BCBA, is a doctoral student at The University of Denver. She is studying Child, Family, and School Psychology. Abby is a graduate research assistant at the Positive Early Learning Experiences Center. She assists with a number of projects at the PELE Center including research and assistance with implementation of the LEAP Model, Pyramid Model, and Prevent Teach Reinforce for Young Children. Abby’s professional and research interests include the assessment and treatment of challenging behavior in young children and collaborating with teachers and caregivers to implement interventions with fidelity.

Eleanor (Ellie) Bold, M.A.
Eleanor (Ellie) Bold is a graduate research assistant for the Positive Early Learning Experiences (PELE) Center at the University of Denver, where she is also a doctoral student in the Child, Family, and School Psychology program. Ellie assists with a number of projects at the PELE Center including research and implementation of the LEAP Model, Pyramid Model, and Prevent Teach Reinforce for Young Children. Ellie is passionate about early intervention and education for all children, and achieving these goals through effective collaboration with teachers and caregivers.

Delphine Cillard-Garcia
Delphine Cillard-Garcia is the part-time Administrative Assistant for the PELE Center within the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. She has held positions as a Marketing Specialist for international marketing and communications projects. She also has experience as an Administrative Assistant within a variety of corporations and non-profit organizations.

Ben Riepe
Ben has 13 years of experience as a Head Start teacher, coach, and trainer. He is on staff at both the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations and the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center, where he supports high fidelity program-wide implementation of the Pyramid Model with families of diverse backgrounds in Denver, Colorado. His previous work includes the Colorado Center for Social Emotional Competence and Inclusion, where he supported communities in their efforts to embed evidence-based inclusion practices into their systems and classrooms.

Angie Van Polen
Angie Van Polen is a LEAP Project Manager at the Positive Early Learning Experiences (PELE) Center at the University of Denver. Angie has 20 years of experience in the field of education. She has held positions as a special education teacher, special education consultant and state education agency consultant. Her experiences and background provide her with a strong understanding of inclusive practices at a classroom level, as well as, at a state-wide systems level to inform implementation practices, scale-up and sustainability. Much of her work has been focused on improving systemic scale up and sustainability while engaging various cross disciplinary teams to improve agreed upon outcomes.

Nancy Burdic
Nancy Burdic joined the PELE Center as a Senior Research Associate after a 37 year career serving students in the public school setting. As a Speech/Language Pathologist, her 21 years in Early Childhood Education were the most rewarding of her professional life.  She characterizes her extensive training in the LEAP model as transformative, which in turn, significantly informed her practices as an Early Childhood Education (ECE) classroom provider, ECE instructional coach and ECE department director. Given the substantial research evidence supporting LEAP and her own personal experience using the approach, she is committed to assisting others in the field of Early Childhood Education and Care to achieve the highest outcomes possible for each and every child in their care.

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