Partnering with Need in Deed for Research and Teaching

Atterbury talking to classroom

For the past 6 years, Dr. Kathleen Riley has partnered with the non-profit organization Need in Deed (NID), which supports Philadelphia teachers in facilitating student-driven service learning projects with their students in grades 3-8. In her Literacy Practicum class, Dr. Riley has worked with Need in Deed to place West Chester students with teachers who engage their students in critical literacy practices such as evaluating multiple perspectives; analyzing their worlds in terms of equity and fairness; and taking action to make change in their communities. Each fall, NID program director, Kyra Atterbury, visits Dr. Riley’s class to teach them about the organization’s curricular framework (as seen in the spotlight photo).

In 2019, Dr. Riley and Dr. Elizabeth Soslau (from the University of Delaware) secured a Spencer Foundation grant to better understand the social justice teaching practices that NID teachers use. In the 2019-2020 school year, they followed four Philadelphia elementary and middle school teachers as they supported their students in exploring and addressing issues that impacted their communities - gun violence, water pollution, gender inequality, and discrimination. Initial analysis reveals the powerful ways that teachers used questioning practices, positioned students as leaders and change-makers, and created space for thinking about complex social issues.

This ongoing partnership with NID has enabled West Chester students to experience social justice teaching in urban contexts- challenging dominant narratives about urban teaching and students. Dr. Riley’s research impacts her teaching and the education field, offering a vision for how teachers can support students in addressing the social issues of our time.

Spotlight on Student Excellence

NCTE Executive Board

Congratulations to West Chester University National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Student Affiliate for winning one of the Student Affiliate of Excellence Awards for 2020!

As members of an NCTE Student Affiliate, we educate other English Education majors on the organization and the role it has for teachers. Our organization is all about educating pre-service teachers about diversity; effective teaching principles; and how to create a welcoming and inclusive teaching environment. We believe that it is important for West Chester University students to have the opportunity to hear about all of these important aspects of being in the profession. Some events we hold every year include our Banned Books Week Discussion, Student Teacher Panels, and Writing Portfolio Information Sessions. To learn more, visit the WCUPA NCTE webpage.

We also attend the NCTE National Convention every year. Due to the pandemic, the conference was moved to a virtual format, but we were still able to learn from educators about the challenges of teaching virtually, how to bring diverse voices to classroom discussions, and other vital teaching strategies. Last spring, we were selected as one of four NCTE Student Affiliates to win the 2020 Student Affiliate of Excellence Award. This was the second time our Affiliate at West Chester has won this award, and we were so honored and happy that all of our hard work paid off.

Spotlight on Inclusive Excellence

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Claire L. Dente, Ph.D., MSW, LCSW

Dr. Claire Dente received the Pennsylvania Diversity Council’s 2020 LGBTQ+ Leadership Award, presented at the Pennsylvania LGBTQ+ Unity Summit on August 19, 2020.

As a Professor of Social Work in the BSW Program at WCU, Dr. Dente has committed much of her teaching, scholarship and service focus to LGBTQ+ issues. She has conducted numerous trainings for the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW-PA) and for local professional groups of therapists and community groups. In addition, Dr. Dente has participated in numerous national presentations on LGBTQ+ issues in social work education for the Annual Program Meeting of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), and at The Association for Baccalaureate Program Director’s (BPD) annual conference.

Dr. Dente’s particular interest involves intersections of a person’s faith, spirituality and religious identity with sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2015, Dr. Dente and her wife were invited to participate as representatives of Equally Blessed, a coalition of three Roman Catholic LGBTQ+ affirming groups including Call To Action, DignityUSA, and New Ways Ministry. Equally Blessed attended The 2015 World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’s visit to Philadelphia to represent positive voices to support and advocate on behalf of LGBTQ+ individuals, families and groups at this international symposium. In addition, Dr. Dente and other group members led trainings outside of the World Meeting to present LGBTQ+ affirming perspectives on sexual orientation and gender identity within a spiritual framework.

Dr. Dente’s publications on these intersections have appeared in peer-reviewed journals and other professional publications. Her most recent work included the edited text, Social Work Practice with LGBTQIA Populations: An Interactional Perspective, published through the Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group. Thus, it was an honor and privilege for Dr. Dente to be nominated by colleagues for this work and selected to receive the Pennsylvania Diversity Council’s 2020 LGBTQ+ Leadership Award. Like everything else in 2020, Dr. Dente was presented with the award on Zoom at the Pennsylvania LGBTQ+ Unity Summit on August 19, 2020. As a social worker, Dr. Dente has also advocated for individuals with diverse identities including (dis)ability, and broadened her work to address systemic racism and white privilege in advocacy, social work education and social work practice.

WCU Transformative Principalship Certification Program Spotlight

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We are excited to announce that in Summer 2021 West Chester University will be welcoming the first Transformative Principalship Certification cohort. The WCU Transformative Principalship Certification is a unique program designed to offer current teacher leaders the necessary tools and skills required to be an effective principal. Our students will be presented with experiences that challenge them to think critically about the current realities facing today’s schools and find ways of effectively meeting the challenges of an ever-changing educational system while focusing on the needs of students and school communities.

Participants in the program will complete 15 credits of coursework that meet the PDE requirements for principal certification. Courses will be offered as both hybrid and in-person learning sessions. Our courses are designed to provide a model of best practices for supporting adult learners. In addition to coursework, principal candidates will complete a year-long principal internship to gain real experience in the field.

Interested candidates can visit our program’s website at Transformative Principalship Certification. Additionally, if you would like to set up an individual consultation you can reach out to Dr. Van Schooneveld at or Dr. Ryan at We would be happy to answer your questions and share more information and specifics about the Transformative Principalship Certification program

This program is designed for education professionals who want to make a positive impact on students and families as transformative school leaders. Our students will not only have the skills necessary to be day-one ready for the work of a school principal, they will also cultivate a mindset that supports and promotes an equitable school culture that prepares students to identify and pursue their interests and dreams. We are so excited about the launch of this new program and the positive impact our future principals will have on schools and districts.

Special Education Program Spotlight

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In October 2018, the PA House of Representatives and PA Senate passed Act 82, a new law that changed the grade spans for Special Education Instructional I certificates.

All current 1st year [admitted Fall 2020] and 2nd year [admitted Fall 2019] students will be graduating with a Pk-12 Special Education Instructional I Certificate and may select one of the following programs:

  • Special Education Grades PK-12 with Early Grades Preparation Pk-4 [Double Major]
  • Special Education Grades PK-12 with Middle Grades Preparation 4 - 8 [Double Major]
  • Special Education PK-12 [Stand-Alone], pending PASSHE approval

Given the Pk-12 focus of this new program, students will complete field experiences in multiple Special Education settings [Learning Support, Emotional Support, Autism Support, Life Skills or Multiple Disabilities] and across the different grade bands [Elementary, Middle and High School]. We also developed new coursework [in Culturally Responsive Teaching, Trauma-Informed Education, and Severe Disabilities] and revised some of our current courses to include content with a focus on PK-12 (pending PASSHE approval).

Our department also offers three different minor courses - Special Education, Autism Education, and the Early Intervention minor offered in collaboration with the Early Grades Preparation program. The Autism Education minor will lead to an endorsement in your Level 1 Instructional Certificate.

Students interested in any of our major or minor programs should email for advising.

Beatrice Adera
Special Education Department Chair

Spotlight on Pandemic Research

Alison Updyke Neff, DSW Headshot

Alison Updyke Neff, DSW

As Clinical Director for The Center for Carceral Communities, a West Philadelphia-based organization that works to reverse the community-to-prison pipeline, Dr. Alison Updyke Neff is engaged in a collaborative research initiative to support people with histories of incarceration to reengage with the community in the midst of the unique challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic. When the pandemic hit in spring, The Center was confronted with two competing realities – the increasing numbers of people being released from Philadelphia jails, and the lack of available services as a result of pandemic-related constraints. The Center secured funding to provide prepaid smartphones through the Philadelphia Department of Prisons to those who are being released to ensure they are able to connect with reentry services, healthcare, and other critical supports. In addition to three months of prepaid service, the 135 phones that have been distributed were set up with the phone number for The Center and the Zoom app for engagement in The Center's weekly psychosocial support groups. Dr. Neff incorporates this community-based research into her Graduate Social Work teaching and engages student interns and Graduate Assistants in her research through participation in support groups, follow-up calls to cell phone recipients, and the ongoing process of working creatively to find new ways of connecting and building community in the current Coronavirus landscape.

"You have won half of the battle when you got your phone and you can make the calls for the jobs, for the connections, for housing, to reach out to the help that's there." - Herb Baker, peer specialist

Drs. Brie Radis, Hadih Deedat, and Susan Wysor Nguema (Assistant Professors, Undergraduate Social Work), along with Graduate Social Work student Colleen Keeler Headshot

Research Study on how COVID-19 pandemic is affecting WCU students.

Drs. Brie Radis, Hadih Deedat, and Susan Wysor Nguema (Assistant Professors, Undergraduate Social Work), along with Graduate Social Work student Colleen Keeler, are conducting a research study that looks at the educational experiences of WCU students during the COVID-19 pandemic. This research seeks to identify major stressors that have arisen as a result of the pandemic, understand how these stressors may impact students' educational experiences, and explore the strengths and resilience of students during the pandemic.

Results so far have shown that student stress related to grades and financial burdens increased during the COVID-19 period of remote education, while concerns over work/life balance and stress related to campus social life decreased. Interestingly, respondents indicated fewer symptoms of stress during the COVID-specific period than they said they experience during a typical academic year. The research team hopes that by using this study to better understand students have been affected by this pandemic, they can determine what changes can be made to adequately support students during this time.

Students, if you have not already participated in this survey, please take a few minutes to do so! Each participant will be entered into a drawing for one of five $50 gift cards. With more data, the researchers will be able to explore more possible solutions. The survey can be found here.

A Focus on Self-Care, Wellness, and Mindfulness

Lisa Luca Headshot

When educators care for themselves deeply and deliberately, they are able to care for the people that matter most in their lives: their students, friends, and families.

Dr. Lisa J. Lucas (Professor, Early and Middle Grades Education) is being recognized for her research and development of practical self-care, self-compassion, and stress reduction strategies, all of which Dr. Lucas integrates into the courses she teaches at WCU, as well as the workshops and retreats she provides to educators across the country. Dr. Lucas’ recent book, Practicing Presence: Simple Self-Care Strategies for Teachers, provides valuable insights and practical strategies to cultivate well-being, and emphasizes the positive impact self-care has on student learning.

Dr. Lucas is currently developing course electives on the topics of: Social Emotional Learning in the Classroom and Self-Care, Self- Compassion and Personal Sustainability Strategies for College Students. Watch the recording of her recent webinar that explores practical self-care, self-compassion, and stress reduction practices that can help us navigate through these turbulent times. 

Man in vilanova jacket

The CESW is also recognizing three educators from the Counselor Education department for their work in area of self-care. Dr. Rick Parsons, Dr. Karen Dickinson, and Dr. Bridget Asempapa have recently published Counselor Wellness: Caring for Self to Care for Others. The book underscores the importance of self-care for counselors in order to maintain an ethical, life-giving practice and minimize the risks of burnout, compassion fatigue, and secondary trauma. The book provides valuable insight regarding the inherent risks and challenges that come with serving others. It contains timely research and practical strategies for reducing stress and preventing the deleterious effects that can derail personal and professional effectiveness.

Wellness, stress management and strategies for maintaining a rational approach to life have been areas of interest, research, and publication throughout Dr. Rick Parsons career. Dr. Parson recommends self-care tips of eating healthy, exercise, sufficient sleep, and keeping things in perspective. He also suggests taking life as it is and to truly navigate one moment at a time. Living in the present can help to reduce anxiety and stress. It’s not easy breaking habits but with intentional practice we can be more rational and adaptive and as a result much healthier

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