In the Spring of 2018, before Dr. Phil Strain and his team from the Positive Early Learning Experiences (PELE) Center made their official move to the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education, Strain collaborated with Morgridge Dean, Dr. Karen Riley, and Dr. Elaine Belanksy, director of the Center for Rural School Health & Education (CRSHE), on a pilot virtual learning series focused on early childhood education through the newly launched ECHO-DU, a hub-and-spoke model of distance learning with a home base inside Morgridge College. The three leaders, in addition to Hema Visweswaraiah, Director at Morgridge’s Fisher Early Learning Center, put together a proposal for Constellation Philanthropy, a community of individual funders working together to increase philanthropic investment in early childhood development in Colorado.

The proposal outlined a pilot project to increase the capacity of early childhood educators in underserved communities in order to provide inclusive educational opportunities for all children. According to the literature, the primary barrier to inclusion is not developmental status or cognitive or physical challenges, but rather problem behavior. Through this ECHO-DU series, educators and therapists would learn the tools to manage problem behaviors in their classrooms and create an atmosphere where children with special needs can learn with their typically developing peers. The Morgridge College team, led by Strain, would begin by teaching the Strain-authored Prevent-Teach-Reinforce for Young Children (PTRYC) method. Internally, Morgridge College would leverage the connections of Belansky in rural Colorado, its existing urban partnerships to ensure this information would be widely available to communities who need it, and the invaluable daily lived experiences of the staff from the Fisher Early Learning Center.

Through relationships, research, and reporting, Constellation Philanthropy helps donors invest wisely so all of Colorado’s children can have a great start in life. Kate Kennedy Reinemund, Executive Director of Constellation Philanthropy, was already aware of Morgridge College’s work in this arena through her personal connection to Fisher. She was blown away when Riley came to talk to her about this project.

“When Karen came to talk to us about this proposal, she had an energy that was contagious,” Reinemund recalled. “We were so impressed with the use of new technology to reach students and families who would otherwise go without.”

Other funders to Constellation, including the Anna and John J. Sie Foundation, Piton Foundation, Zoma Foundation, and many individuals, felt the same. They decided to fund the very first ECHO at the University of Denver. ECHO-DU is unique, because while most ECHO sites across the world focus on healthcare, ECHO-DU is one of a few focused on the P-20 education system. ECHO-DU participants collaborate with other educators in a case-based learning environment in order to learn about evidence-based practices and develop advanced skills related to mental health, school health-wellness, and school leadership. This pilot project would set the bar for other ECHO-DU projects and address a key finding of the Colorado Early Workforce Survey 2017, by helping teachers build the skills to meet the care and learning needs of children with special needs and challenging behaviors in order to increase the opportunities for inclusion for all children across the state.

The project launched with two ECHO-DU cohorts in the Spring of 2019. The cohorts totaled 35 participants, and each participant had direct contact with 20-25 children, for a total of 700-875 children impacted by the pilot. Additionally, participants became “specialists” in PTRYC and are now able to serve as a resource for the other teachers and children in his or her center or school, potentially impacting hundreds of additional children. The program served to build capacity, which is the vision of Project ECHO globally.

The use of ECHO-DU created a network of practitioners, especially in rural areas, who are now able to use a child and family-centered approach that, with continued implementation, could adequately support both the short and long term social and emotional outcomes of young children and inclusion. Participants were hungry for information and extremely engaged both between and within sessions; for many participants, this was their first exposure to PTRYC or to any evidence-based process for reducing challenging behavior.

“We [Constellation] look for what we call the ‘stickiness factor’,” said Reinemund. “We want to fund evidence-based, high quality programs with scalability. We love how DU takes resources and sees how they can get into the community with maximum potential.”

Strain agrees with Reinmund on the importance of the stickiness factor.

“In the course of my 45-year career I have had the good fortune to hold faculty positions in Schools of Medicine and Education,” he said. “One thing that both fields have in common is a gross disparity between known evidence-based practices and the use of these practices in typical settings.”

According to Strain, the time between vital information appearing in a journal and its appearance in everyday practice can approach two decades. He identifies this lag time as a waste of resources, depriving clients of the most effective services and disproportionately discriminating against the already underserved.

“ECHO-DU is perhaps the most effective antidote to this problem that we have,” he said. “This initial trial, generously supported by Constellation, provided invaluable data about how ECHO-DU can be utilized in the delivery of a very complex behavioral intervention for extreme problem behaviors in young children.”

As a result of the pilot, the PELE Center has adapted all of its distance training and coaching efforts to reflect ECHO-DU learnings.

“The impact of the initial gift from Constellation Philanthropy cannot be overstated,” said Riley.  “It not only successfully funded this program, which will benefit hundreds of children with special needs and their families, it launched ECHO-DU and serves as an exemplar for how this technology, which was originally designed for use in medicine, can advance evidence based practices in education and other fields.”

Nancy O’Sullivan, ECHO-DU Program Manager, says it was because of Constellation’s generosity that Morgridge College was able to build much of the ECHO-DU infrastructure.

“The experience and knowledge we gained were used to successfully launch three more ECHO series within six months after finishing the PTRYC pilot,” O’Sullivan said.

Those ECHO series were: Behavioral Health Solutions for Rural Schools (CRSHE & ECHO-DU), with 68 registered participants; Empathy and Social Emotional Learning (mindSpark & ECHO-DU), with 75 registered participants; and Wellness Coordinators Make It Happen (CRSHE & ECHO-DU), with 23 registered participants.

According to O’Sullivan, “Based on our initial pilots and continued success in the virtual professional development space, we have many other groups interested in using ECHO-DU to build capacity in their region.”

Clearly, the ECHO in ECHO-DU is making an impact.

“I am so grateful to Kate Reinemund and her staff as well as all of the Constellation Philanthropy partners for their support,” Riley added. “This was a new project and their sponsorship and vision have allowed this to become a reality, resulting in lasting impact for our community for years to come.”

Jesse Owen, PhD, Professor and former chair of our Counseling Psychology department, was awarded a $2M, multi-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation to study how psychotherapy can contribute to people being able to live more meaningful lives.

In an effort to build out psychotherapists’ toolkit for understanding the role of virtues in psychiatric patients’ well-being, Owen and Dr. Steven Sandage, professor of the psychology of religion and theology at Boston University, are leading a multi-year, multi-site investigation to measure whether growth in gratitude, forgiveness, and humility can predict — or even help to cause — growth in general flourishing and well-being among mental health clients.

“I am excited for the possibilities to explore client and therapist flourishing, to promote what we all truly want — to live the good life,” Owen said of the new grant, which begins April 2020 and closes March 2023.

During this pressing time, we wanted to share some good news. We hope that you can pause and reflect for a moment on the hard work that the Morgridge community – our students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, parents and community members – have contributed to the College in the past several years to get us to this point. In this moment, we have a lot to be thankful for, and we are thankful for all your contributions.

We are happy to announce that the Morgridge College of Education has jumped 22 spots in the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings, a reflection of the College’s continued dedication to improving lives by advancing systemic solutions to complex societal challenges. Morgridge made the list at 112 out of 200 in the top graduate schools in education.

“This type of recognition is wonderful, but what is truly impressive is what these numbers represent,” said Morgridge Dean, Dr. Karen Riley. “These numbers denote years of work on the part of every member of our community and reflect our collective commitment to excellence in teaching and scholarship. This type of success would also not be possible without thoughtful and deep collaborations with our community partners.”

For several years, Morgridge College’s Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program has earned a spot in the top programs in the nation. This time, the program came in at number 25 for Education Administration on U.S. News and World Report’s annual list, released March 17. New to the top 25 rankings is Morgridge College’s Teacher Education Program, ranked 18 in the nation for Secondary Education.

Both programs at Morgridge have deep community partnerships, which allow their students to connect theory to practice while receiving invaluable experience, setting them apart from competitors. The Teacher Education Program specifically offers an Urban Teacher Fellowship (UTF), an innovative one-year program made possible by a partnership between Morgridge College and Denver Public Schools. The goal of UTF is to support teacher fellows and provide them with the resources and experiences necessary to ensure that all children have access to highly-trained educators. The Ritchie Program for School Leaders, part of the Educational Leadership program, involves partnerships with several school districts across the state and immerses students in graduate-level coursework and project-based learning that prepares them to meet challenges within complex systems. Each student’s experience is customized to their individual needs and the school where they work.

“At a time when fewer people are entering the field of education we could not be prouder of the impact of these two programs,” continued Dr. Riley. “Facilitating the development of exemplary classroom teachers and school leaders is not only central to our mission as a college of education, but has a cascading effect. Our faculty, students, staff and alumni are working every day to improve the lives of children and families in our communities.” Read Dr. Riley’s Q&A on the teacher shortage in the U.S.

The College of Education traces its roots back to the 1890s when teacher preparation was its primary focus. Today, in addition to teacher preparation, the College has expanded to offer master’s and doctoral degrees in the disciplines across the spectrum of education, wellness, data, information and human development.

Each year, U.S. News & World Report ranks professional school programs in business, education, engineering, law, medicine and nursing, including specialties in each area. The Best Graduate Schools rankings in these areas are based on two types of data: Expert opinions about program excellence and statistical indicators that measure the quality of a school’s faculty, research and students.

The data for the rankings in all six disciplines comes from statistical surveys of more than 2,081 programs and from reputation surveys sent to more than 24,603 academics and professionals, conducted in fall 2019 and early 2020.

Press Release: Validating Toolbox to help evaluate cognitive processing in people with intellectual disability

UC Davis Health study a “big first step” in standardizing assessments

Researchers at the UC Davis MIND Institute, University of Denver, Northwestern University, Rush University, and University of California Riverside, have updated and validated a series of tests delivered on an iPad to accurately assess cognitive processing in people with intellectual disability. The validation opens new opportunities for more rigorous and sensitive studies in this population, historically difficult to evaluate.

The widely used NIH Toolbox was designed for use in the general population. It had not been applied as a rule to people with intellectual disability. Intellectual disability is characterized by significant limitations in both cognitive functioning and in adaptive behavior such as everyday social and practical skills. The most common genetic causes of intellectual disability are Down syndrome and fragile X syndrome.

The article “Validation of the NIH Toolbox Cognitive Battery in Intellectual Disability,” published February 24 in Neurology©, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, determined that the tests accurately measure cognitive skills in individuals with a mental age of 5 or above. Additional modifications to the test are needed before it can be shown to be equally good at measuring skills in people with lower functioning.

“Our study assessed how the battery is performing in people with intellectual disability. We made some adaptations to the assessment so that it works well in this population,” said Rebecca Shields, the first author on the study and a UC Davis graduate student in human development working in the laboratory of David Hessl. “This is a big first step showing how it works in these individuals. Applying it consistently across this unique population means other researchers and clinicians can use it too.”

Manual developed to aid clinicians in using the test

To guide clinicians and researchers in using the Toolbox with this population, the group also developed and published a manual as a supplement to the NIH Toolbox Administrator’s Manual. The manual documents the researchers’ guidelines specific to assessing individuals with intellectual disabilities, allowing other researchers to administer the test in a standardized way. This project was led by Forrest McKenzie, a member of the Hessl laboratory, and is available in the online article as well as on the NIH Toolbox website.

“People with intellectual disabilities can be very difficult to assess. Many of the existing measures we use to evaluate them have a lot of limitations,” said Hessl, senior author on the study and a professor in the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “Also, different investigators choose a wide variety of different tests for research, making it very hard to compare results in the field. We really hope that the NIH Toolbox cognitive tests can be used more uniformly, as a common metric.”

The lack of standardized tests also has had an impact on clinical trials of potential new treatments, he said.

“When we are trying to determine if people with disabilities are really improving, if their cognitive rate is getting faster or if they are responding to treatment, we face challenges because of measurement limitations,” Hessl said. “This Toolbox really tackles a lot of these limitations. It is well standardized, and objective. And the test is given on an iPad, so the way each person responds to the question should be more consistent and reliable.”

Test measures cognitive skills and executive function in just 30 minutes

The test, which typically takes about 30 minutes, measures a variety of skills, including memory, vocabulary, single-word reading and processing speed. It also measures executive function, such as the ability to shift from one thought to another or to pay attention and inhibit impulses. In the cognitive flexibility test, the individual is asked to match items by shape. But the rules of the game then switch, and they are asked to match the items by color.

The test also measures receptive vocabulary, or how words are understood. For example, the test taker will hear a word and see four pictures then select the picture that matches the word. It also measures memory by presenting a picture story in a sequence then asking the test taker to put the story back together in the same sequence.

A list-sorting task on the test requires the individual to remember the group of items they had seen on the screen and repeat them back in a certain order. A processing speed task evaluates how well the individual can compare different patterns that appear on the screen.

Researchers found that the battery of tests was feasible for a very high percentage of individuals with a mental age of five or higher; individuals in the study did not refuse to participate, were able to respond to the tests as designed and understood what the tests required. The battery also proved to be reliable; the scores were consistent for individuals after re-testing. Hessl said these test properties are especially important in determining the value and utility of the battery, such as determining how useful it may be in detecting changes related to treatment.

Shields said that the team is now learning about how well the test battery picks up cognitive changes over development. They are bringing back the same participants in the study two years later.

Funding for the study came from the NICHD (RO1HD076189), the Health and Human Services Administration of Developmental Disabilities (90DD0596), the MIND Institute Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (U54 HD079125) and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health, through grant UL1 TR000002.

Other authors on the study include: Andrea Drayton and Stephanie Sansone of UC Davis; Aaron Kaat and Richard Gershon of Northwestern University; Jeanine Coleman and Karen Riley of the University of Denver; Claire Michalak and Elizabeth Berry-Kravis of Rush University Medical Center; and Keith Widaman of the University of California, Riverside.

Feb. 29, 2020

Dr. Sarah Hurtado, HED, was featured in the Denver Post on Friday, Feb. 29, lending her expertise about sexual violence on college campuses. The article reads:

“Sarah Hurtado, a DU assistant professor focused on researching rape culture on college campuses, said society often thinks about rape as a violent act perpetrated by strangers. But particularly on college campuses, most sexual assaults happen between acquaintances.

Membrino, a junior, remembered staring up at an episode of “The Office” projected on a dorm ceiling while she was sexually assaulted during her freshman year at DU. She was too drunk to consent, but will never forget lying like a ragdoll on her Tinder date’s bed.

Hurtado said alcohol is often a factor in campus sexual assaults.

“I think a lot of times we use someone’s alcohol consumption as a way to blame them or say they should have been more responsible or made better choices, but at the end of the day, there’s only one person responsible, and that’s always the perpetrator,” Hurtado said. “It’s important for people to know that someone can’t consent if they’re inebriated.”

Photo credit: Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post 

Pictured above: From left: University of Denver students Madeline Membrino, Grace Wankelman and Shannon Saul pose for a portrait outside of the library on the DU campus on Feb. 26, 2020. The trio, who are all survivors of sexual assault, started an Instagram account called wecandubetter where DU students can anonymously share their stories of sexual assault on their college campus.

According to research by the Economic Policy Institute, the teacher shortage “is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought.” If current trends persist, the nationwide shortfall of qualified teachers could reach 200,000 by 2025, up from 110,000 in 2018. In other words, it’s time to take it seriously. Karen Riley, dean of the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education, fielded some questions about the shortage from the DU Newsroom.

Dean Riley goes on to answer the following:

  • What is driving the nationwide teacher shortage?
  • Where is the problem most acute?
  • What does a teacher shortage mean for schools and their students?
  • What can school districts do to retain both their young teaching professionals and their experienced teachers?
  • What are the major ramifications for our communities if we don’t address this problem?

March 6, 2020

Dear Morgridge College of Education Community, 

I am pleased to announce that Craig Harrer has been named Director of the Ricks Center for Gifted Children. Since last summer, he has been serving as the Interim Director at Ricks. Craig will now serve as the permanent Director.

As our Interim Director at Ricks, Craig has been focused on community building, gifted learning, and creating internal and external organizational trust at Ricks and the University of Denver (DU). This work has been vital to Ricks and its continued success as a national leader in gifted education. Under Craig’s leadership, we will continue to provide our community – Ricks parents, students and families – an unprecedented educational experience. Something that I have appreciated about Craig and his approach to gifted education is his physical presence in the classroom specifically leading project-based initiatives.

With over 25 years of educational experience in Denver, we are lucky to have Craig as the Director of Ricks. As a native, he grew up blocks away from the DU campus and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School. Since then, he has taught Kindergarten and grades 2 through 8 in a variety of subjects. As an Administrator, he was Principal of Rishel Middle School before helping to open the Denver Green School, a Pre-K through 8 innovation school in Denver Public Schools. Read more about Craig’s success at the Denver Green School.

Before coming back to Ricks in February 2019, he worked as a high school Assistant Principal and as a School Leadership Consultant. During his doctoral coursework, he worked part-time at Ricks from 2016-2018 and was excited about the opportunity to rejoin the Ricks community. Craig is also a proud Pio and values his deep ties with DU, including being a member of the doctoral cohort in our nationally recognized Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program with a dissertation in shared leadership.

Personally I am so thrilled to have Craig leading the school and look forward to working with him long into the future.

Please join us at a celebratory reception to congratulate Craig on Tuesday, March 10 at 3 p.m., Ricks (2040 South York Street, Denver, CO 80208).

Best,
Dean Karen Riley

Just like their urban counterparts, school districts in rural Colorado confront plenty of daunting health and wellness challenges — everything from hungry children to students stressed by family turmoil and economic instability.

But unlike their urban peers, rural districts typically confront their challenges under the radar. For all their assets (think close-knit communities where everyone knows everyone’s name), rural districts often are hampered by tiny staffs, minimal support and scant access to resources.

The Center for Rural School Health & Education (CRSHE) at the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education aims to help change that. Armed with two recent grants totaling $5.1 million from the Colorado Health Foundation, the CRSHE will spend the next two years equipping 27 high-poverty rural school districts with the support, evidence-based resources and professional development essential to fostering student health and wellness. Read the full story.

The University of Denver Morgridge College of Education (MCE)’s Marsico Institute of Early Learning has been funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to embark on a new research collaboration with Boulder Valley School District to research evidence-based interventions to support teachers.

“ULTIMATE” (Understanding Learning Trajectories in Mathematics: Advancing Teacher Education), under the direction of Drs. Douglas H. Clements, Julie Sarama, from Morgridge College of Education, and Dr. Douglas Ready from Teachers College, Columbia University, is a five-year grant totaling $4,575,683. Despite the documented importance of early mathematics and of teachers as a critical lever in facilitating its development, there are stunningly few evidence-based interventions available to support teachers. Over two decades, Clements and Sarama have built a professional development tool, called Learning and Teaching with Learning Trajectories, or [LT]2, a web-based tool for early childhood educators to learn about how children think and learn about mathematics and how to teach mathematics to young children (birth to age 8).

The DU team will work with Boulder Valley School District teachers, blending high quality in-person professional development with the [LT]2 professional development. The grant will allow DU to collaborate with teachers in deepening their understanding of how children learn mathematics and how they can incorporate this knowledge into their instruction.

According to Sarama, “This funding from NSF allows us to directly contribute to teachers of early mathematics and to the hundreds of children they serve, while producing rigorous research that documents the power of teachers’ understanding children’s thinking—serving as a model for the rest of the nation.”

From dreaming up a competitive gaming event to reimagining how to expand the historic Lincoln Hills resort, more than 50 Colorado high schoolers got the chance to put their creativity to the test by developing business plans at the Inaugural Teen Entrepreneurship Challenge. The University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education hosted the NEXUS Summer Program, which aims to set up college-bound teens with resources to thrive on campuses across the country. Read the full story.

Alumna Karen Philbrick has a PhD in educational psychology. She decides how tax dollars are spent in San Jose, CA. The executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute is leading the research within the California State University system to make sure gas taxes are spent on solutions that actually improve commutes, advance safety and save money.

Kaleen Barnett—Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) Ed.D. student—has been selected to run the Colorado High School Charter (CHSC) satellite campus serving Denver’s Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods.

CHSC is a charter school for students who need an alternative academic environment to succeed and to achieve post-secondary goals. The satellite campus, which opened in August 2016, supports a low-resource area with a high underserved population. Barnett’s goal with the new campus is to “create a tailored curriculum in an inclusive environment that values community partnerships” and to “empower students to succeed in their life and positively contribute to their families and community.”

The campus has partnered with the Colorado Construction Institute to provide vocational training, infusing the curriculum with individualized skill-building to help students reach future goals. Barnett says there is nothing like it in Denver for a school to run an outsourced model which utilizes existing, strong, established training already rooted in the community.

Barnett cites her education in the ELPS program as something that has prepared her for this opportunity, saying that “because of DU I’m better equipped to utilize a cultural leadership lens and continue to help create a community that values inclusivity.” The infusion of turnaround leadership into all ELPS coursework has prepared Barnett to step into a leadership role responsible for transforming a community.

This story is featured in our 2016 Dean’s Report, which you can read in its entirety here.

The Educational Leadership Policy Studies (ELPS) Program at the Morgridge College of Education (MCE) is a nationally-recognized leader in the field, and is ranked in this year’s Top 20 programs for Educational Administration and Supervision by U.S. News and World Report.

According to Susan Korach, Ed.D.—ELPS department chair—“Our systems of support and coursework embedded in school and district contexts prepares transformative leaders who positively impact the educational outcomes for all students. Institutions of higher education across the country have consulted with ELPS to redesign their programs and to build partnerships with schools and districts.” The infusion of turnaround leadership into coursework and the drive of students, faculty, and alumni to innovate propel program success.

One leading example of the program’s innovative impact lies in Denver Public Schools, which has approved the creation of an Innovation Zone called the Luminary Learning Network where educators have more autonomy to influence student success. Three of the schools in the Network—Denver Green School, Ashley Elementary School, and Cole Arts & Science Academy—have been founded by, or are currently run by, ELPS alumni. Denver Green School, founded by alumni Mimi Diaz (2008), Craig Harrer (2008, current Ed.D. candidate), and Andy Post (2008) and currently co-led by alumni Prudence Daniels (2007), is unique in this group for infusing project-based learning and environmental sustainability into its curriculum.

This story is featured in our 2016 Dean’s Report, which you can read in its entirety here.

Students from the Child, Family, and School Psychology (CFSP) program—under the mentorship of faculty member Gloria Miller, Ph.D.—have been working with the Colorado African Organization (CAO) to connect with refugee families who have settled in Colorado.

The students and CAO Community Navigators assist refugee families in adapting to and succeeding in the American education system. School-based issues that the families have encountered include religious dietary restrictions conflicting with school lunch menus, expectations about parental involvement, trauma and mental health, language barriers, and education gaps due to prior unstable living situations.

The partnership enables students to obtain experience working with diverse communities and helps them become more well-rounded practitioners while providing newcomer families with tools and resources to thrive. Due to a rising population of refugees and asylum-seekers in the United States and Colorado, services such as those that CAO provide and the involvement of students who are training to serve these populations are becoming increasingly important.

This story is featured in our 2016 Dean’s Report, which you can read in its entirety here.


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