In this part 1 of 2 episodes of Saints Spotlight, we speak with Kayla Steltenkamp, assistant professor with the School of Education. Kayla discusses the development of the new Dyslexia Institute and the opportunities it creates for the community.
(Written interview compiled from in person and Q&A responses)
David Klenk: Hello and welcome back to another edition of Saints Spotlight. Today we are joined by Kayla Steltenkamp, a member of the Thomas More education department. Thank you so much for joining us. Would you mind sharing with the audience what you do here at Thomas More?
Kayla Steltenkamp: I am a faculty member in the School of Education. I work primarily with our students in preparing them in the world of special needs and special education. I also teach literacy coursework within the elementary program. I help with some of the student teaching, and I go out and observe our practicum students. I recently have begun co-chairing our First Year Experience (FYE) coursework.
DK: Can you explain the goals of the Dyslexia Institute and what makes it unique at Thomas More?
KS: The Dyslexia Institute was an idea that I think is really going to help move us forward as a university, but also a great opportunity for our community. It is a lot of the work that we are currently doing within our courses and within our School of Education, but a way to really reach out and let the community know what we’re doing and provide resources. Our goal is to establish a center for our community and for our students where they can be trained on how to identify students with dyslexia; they can learn the interventions that are needed to help teach students with dyslexia; help current teachers out in the field who might need some additional information or training on identifying or giving interventions for our students. For parents in our community as well, they are always looking for resources and so it can be a hub where they can come find additional resources that they might need to help their own students. Finally, for people that may have dyslexia that live in our state that are looking for a university to attend, we already have some really great supports here.
DK: How does the Institute fit into the School of Education’s VILLA programming?
KS: The VILLA program is a phenomenal new initiative that we’ve started and it’s kind of an umbrella that really helps to look at all of the different ways that we can prepare our pre-service teachers to be the best when they go out in the field. So the Dyslexia Institute really helps focus on the literacy coursework and the needs that they have to identify and support students with dyslexia. It also feeds into the professional development suite that we have under The VILLA, because we will be providing training to teachers that are currently in schools. We also have the honors program as part of our VILLA Institute, and so we hope that our students who are in the honors program can get some unique opportunities out in the field to work with students with dyslexia. Then there are other programs in the VILLA Institute that we plan to launch in the future like the STEM Institute and some graduate programs. A lot of students that have dyslexia are super creative so the STEM Institute would be a great way for some of our teachers to learn techniques about Science and Technology and Engineering that for a lot of dyslexics might be a strength of theirs. They all kind of work very well together within the VILLA umbrella and we see them collaborating often through the different programs.
DK: How will education students be involved with the Dyslexia Institute? I know you mentioned earlier in the sense of bringing some in through the programs but how exactly are they going to be involved?
KS: A lot of our literacy coursework, we have currently realigned. There’s legislation happening and the reading wars are always happening, and we have looked at our coursework in the elementary level to help redesign the best practices of teaching language and literacy. Students will be involved in understanding the structure of language and literacy so that they will be able to teach any student, but especially those with dyslexia. We also have additional coursework where they can practice assessing students and we have students from the community come in and our students do the assessments, they write them up, they have to articulate the results to the parents and say could they possibly have characteristics of dyslexia. Our students are very much involved in learning the skills that they need to identify and support students with dyslexia. Hopefully they can also be involved with providing some of those trainings and resources to the parents. Even when they go out into their practicums and they’re working with their mentor teachers, they can share the information that they’re learning with them. We really see it as kind of a branching out from here. Our students at Thomas More will be very heavily involved in the learning and the sharing of what we do.
DK: How will the outside community benefit from the Institute?
KS: I think in several ways, one of the things is that we will have different events for professional learning opportunities where they can come in and learn more of what they want, maybe about their students or about their own children. We’re going to have some opportunities for assessments, so if they suspect their child has dyslexia we have some times where some of our students need practice assessing and so we can partner those opportunities together so that they can bring in some of their concerns and we can have those discussions with them. Also some resources, so if they have a student that was just identified as dyslexic and they’re not really sure of the next steps to do, we will have a website that will have some information and we’ll have some opportunities for a consultation so that they can come in and talk to me or some of our students and get ideas about the next steps or things that they can consider to do to help their child. In terms of teachers or other professionals in the area, they can also get resources about dyslexia from the Institute. We will prepare students, but will also be a resource for the community at large.
DK: It sounds like it will be. It’s a great beacon of help that you guys are building up to service not just the students here but the community as well. Now, how will the Dyslexia Institute intertwine with the Institute for Learning Differences?
KS: One of the big draws when we were trying to think of some ideas and initiatives within the VILLA Institute – dyslexia is a passion of mine, so of course that was an easy one. I was like, “Yeah, let’s do this!” I had to think about if we had a Dyslexia Institute, what are the different ways that that could be perceived in our community? One of the ways I thought about was if a student or a person is looking to attend a college and they have dyslexia, they might think “Oh they’ve got a Dyslexia Institute, so I’ll go there.” Our Dyslexia Institute won’t be necessarily directly supporting our students that have dyslexia that are majoring in something else. If you have dyslexia and you want to get a business degree or you want to get an accounting degree we have the Dyslexia Institute, but that’s not necessarily a direct support for college students with dyslexia to be successful in their courses. Our University already has something that does, so the Institute for Learning Differences is already in place. It’s well established, it’s been here for years, it’s a well-oiled machine. That, to me, was a great opportunity if we launch the Dyslexia Institute that we could also have that as a sort of pillar or collaborative opportunity. If a student that’s getting ready to graduate from high school and has dyslexia, doesn’t really know the next steps, we already have this well-established program in place. There’s no piloting, it’s there, it’s ready to go and they could come and enroll in the Institute for Learning Differences and get support to help them in whatever major that they’re looking at.