In September, the Thomas College community celebrated both the great strides it has made in education programming and the dedication of the Peter and Paula Lunder School of Education. Education faculty are already thinking about what comes next in the School’s evolution.
Dr. Wally Alexander has served at the College for almost 20 years and has seen the Education program grow into one that helps prepare students for the field using innovative tools.
“Our graduates who have entered the profession have been highly successful and are currently in high demand,” he says. “It is very fulfilling to think about the number of young people who are now benefiting from the work we have done with our students here at Thomas. The programming at the Lunder School of Education is forward-thinking. The intent is to prepare students to meet the current status quo and to prepare them for where education is headed.”
Dr. Alexander is proud to have been involved in the Lunder School of Education’s progression – from growing enrollment of the K-8 program; designing the Master’s in Education program; co-writing the Early Childhood Education program; establishing the secondary programs; and, assisting in the planning and grant writing for the Center for Innovation in Education.
Before teaching pre-service teachers at Thomas, he taught both elementary and secondary grade levels.
“I believe that our students learn at least as much from watching us work as they do from reading and studying,” he notes. “In all my classes, I try to model the type of instruction I hope they implement with their future students. It is critical to have clear expectations and to provide multiple pathways for students to meet standards. It’s difficult to teach in a manner that you have never experienced. For that reason, the methods classes I teach focus on ‘living’ the activities, not just reading about them.”
Dr. Richard Biffle, professor of Education and Anthropology at Thomas College, is proud to bring Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) to his students. He knows the course work will help them excel as future educators.
“As the designer of the STEAM portion of the Center for Innovation in Education, I take great pride in the creation of innovative and imaginative STEAM seminars and workshops; student-centered courses that are interdisciplinary and project-based; a Pre-K-12 professional development series for students, teachers, and administrators; and, leadership roundtables focusing on proficiency-based learning across disciplines, STEM to STEAM models, technology integration, and universal instructional design.”
It’s a reason why Dr. Biffle feels so excited moving forward with the Lunder School of Education.
“I believe the purpose of education is to keep curiosity alive in students and faculty so that each and every one will strive to reach his or her full potential throughout life. I believe that the Lunder School of Education will foster inquiry and rekindle intellectual curiosity, areas that many institutions and educational programs have all too often smothered.”
Dr. Biffle has worked at Thomas College for nearly a decade and brings with him an extensive background and leadership in social justice, as well as equity and diversity training and program development.
“I love to teach. I enjoy working with resourceful, knowledgeable, energetic, and committed students; and, I enjoy the daily interactions with colleagues and Pre-K-12 school personnel and working in an environment that is comfortable and supportive. Additionally, I enjoy being around people who make me think and who challenge my ideas,” he says.
He believes that all his students are talented and gifted, and that it’s up to him to bring out the gifts. “Therefore, all the education students I’ve worked with over the years have a unique blend of skills and expertise in making successful contributions to the field of education. I’m honored to have been part of their journey.”
Dr. Katie Rybakova has been a part of the Thomas College community for more than four years and has already made an impact on students by challenging them and giving them opportunities both in and out of the classroom. She is proud to be a part of the department.
“The Thomas College Lunder School of Education stands out as a community of learners, both inside and outside the College,” she says. “For a small school, we have a large reach. We have Maine Teacher of the Year residences; field placements all throughout the local area; and, the opportunity for students to attend and even present at local, state, and national conferences. It’s a feeling you get – you know you are home.”
Dr. Rybakova says the Lunder School of Education is unique because faculty talk about technology as a tool as well as a learned skill. “And for STEAM,” she adds, “we don’t just showcase the principles – we model them.”
“Students will enter as learners and walk into their student-teaching experiences as confident, pre-service teachers. Through coursework and guidance, pre-service teachers are immersed in real-world experiences, field placements, and/or Pre-K-12 student interactions every semester,” she says.
“I think students come away from my courses proud of their work and having seen their growth. They know that I’m there for them, as we all are at the Lunder School of Education, no matter the need.”
Dr. Rybakova cites several Thomas alumni as examples of the program’s success. “We have so many productive and successful alumni like Kelsea Carter ’17, a 7th/8thmiddle school English teacher at Lake Region Middle School. She won what is akin to a novice teacher of the year award at Maine Association for Middle Level Education in 2018. Al Cotter ’17, Jordan Turner ’18, and Savannah (Kandiko) Lawrence ’17 are making a difference out in the public-school system. Colleen McCormick ’17 taught in Arizona and is now back in New England. Sydni Collier ’19 is about to defend the first undergraduate thesis conducted at Thomas and is gearing up for graduate school. Zach Campbell ’17 is working with students with exceptionalities and who come from extreme conditions in Bangor; that path is incredibly needed and requires the skills I know Zach possesses. His brother Alex ’19 is making a difference in the middle school English classroom in his student teaching right now. And, there are many more.”
Chair of the Lunder School of Education and professor Dr. Pamela Thompson has been an integral part of growing the Education program over the last decade at Thomas College.
Now, she leads the School as Chair with her 28 years of experience in classrooms, ranging from Pre-K through college. Pamela is committed to the Lunder School of Education’s goal to develop highly skilled 21st century teachers and thinkers who are prepared for professional and personal success.
Dr. Thompson talks about how education students at Thomas have a unique experience with early and on-going field experiences; access to former and practicing high-quality teachers and school administrators; multiple opportunities to apply theory through authentic classwork, STEAM; and, the ability to use many different learning model approaches, such as proficiency-based and gamification.
Dr. Thompson has worked with many students over the years and is proud of those who are working in local area schools and childcare settings. Her most recent graduate Daphne (Barber) Pratt ’19, a Child Care Management student, conducted her senior internship at Educare of Central Maine and was hired last month as the Director of the Child Care at The Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers in Waterville.
“The Lunder School of Education has the potential to be a leader in re-envisioning how we prepare teachers and how we cultivate and support the profession overall, which holds a key role in the future economy, culture, and quality of life in our state,” notes Dr. Thompson. “But most importantly, this work is vital for the prosperity of the generation of Maine children and their families.”
*This article was originally published in the Fall 2019 Thomas Magazine.