Graduate Certificates Springboard Teachers In and Out of the Classroom

October 18, 2011 Purnell Cropper

By Erica Lamberg

Small class sizes, personalized attention, knowledgeable professors and flexible course options are some of the benefits Jenna Connor has discovered through earning undergraduate, graduate and completing post-graduate coursework at Arcadia University. Connor, 26, a graduate of Holy Cross High School in Delran, N.J., earned a B.A. degree in Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education from Arcadia in 2008 and also earned an M.A. in Education with a concentration in Special Education earlier this year from Arcadia.

Connor is now completing the last class of a 12-credit Graduate Certificate in Autism program that is designed to develop and enhance effective educational practices to support K-12 educators, school districts, and community-based organizations in using best practices in working with individuals who have been identified as having Autism Spectrum Disorders. Connor is expected to complete this certificate program in December. She currently is a teacher with Kencrest Services in North Philadelphia, a head start program for ages 3-5 serving children with and without disabilities.

It was while pursuing her M.A. in education that Connor said she discovered the Graduate Certificate in Autism. "The certificate interested me because in the field of education a greater number of children are getting diagnosed with autism," she says. "I was already taking courses at Arcadia when my advisor, Dr. Kim Dean, told me there was a new certificate program in Autism. Since I was already doing a concentration in special education I thought the Autism Certificate would enhance my degree."

As an educator, she said the strategies learned in the autism certificate program have assisted to become a better teacher. "The coursework has helped me understand that patience is key, each child learns differently, each child has different goals to meet, and it is essential to differentiate learning objectives to meet the needs of each child," Connor says.

As a teacher with Kencrest Services, Connor is a lead teacher in a special education classroom. "I can have up to 11 children at a time and they only come for three hours, so I have a morning and afternoon session," explains Connor. "I participate in IEP meetings by writing goals, strategies, and present levels. I conduct monthly classroom parent meetings, parent-teacher conferences twice a year and home visits twice a year." She also said she conducts monthly team meetings with therapists and an assistant. "My assistant and I work together on daily lesson planning. I also send home a newsletter every week for parents to see what we are doing in the classroom," adds Connor. "I take observations on each child and use the Child Observation Record (COR) as a tool. I also do early intervention enrollment."

Both in and out of a classroom, Connor has incorporated skills from the Graduate Certificate in Autism program, not only to assist with her students but in her own home, as well. "In the classroom and at home - with my 21-month-old son—the Autism Certificate has taught me strategies for children with autism and with children, in general. The certificate teaches about behavior management, social skills, support in the classroom, caregiver support and the treatment options available," Connor adds.

Pursuing a career in education with a specialty focus on special education has motivated Connor to pursue advanced training and certification. "More and more children are coming into the general education setting with IEP's and for me to be the best educator; I need to know how to meet their needs," explains Connor.

Only one course shy of earning the Graduate Certificate in Autism, Connor shared her career goal is to be director of an education department at a university. She is confident that Arcadia's Graduate Certificate in Autism gives her a competitive edge in the job market. "In having a special education degree, it has given me the tools to help children with special needs succeed in my classroom," Connor says. "The certificate in autism only adds to my expertise."

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