I began teaching in 2006, focused on students with disabilities (K-2ndgrade) and then full day inclusive kindergarten. My life in education started long before that time; a passion sparked by family and friends with disabilities and a desire to understand others. After eight years of teaching, I decided it was time to further my own learning so that I could help others strengthen their own education. I took a leap of faith in 2014 and left my comfort zone of teaching elementary school to pursue my PhD in special education at the University of Central Florida (UCF). While at UCF, I focused on working with students with disabilities, especially those with intellectual disabilities (e.g., Down syndrome). The university provided me with opportunities to explore innovative ideas, technologies, and research. Upon graduation in 2017, my main focus was equality and equity of students with intellectual disabilities learning science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts in elementary school.
And then the option of working at PedsAcademy at Nemours Children’s Hospital was placed in front of me- an opportunity to provide education to medically fragile students using STEM education, working alongside talented UCF Faculty, post doctoral scholars, and pre-service teachers. My research and teaching foci remain the same as at my graduation, with just one small change: I now add medically fragile students to those I have a passion to teach and support. I embrace the opportunity to work with all students regardless of abilities or disabilities, race, cultural background, or environment. Students are the future and PedsAcademy at Nemours Children’s Hospital provides me the opportunity to put my passion for teaching and research in action to teach the future.
As a an educator for the past 27 years I have had the wonderful opportunity to be a classroom teacher, reading specialist, professional developer, and college instructor. Each new position I took was intentionally done to have a wider “impact” on my field of reading, but also a greater “impact” on the lives of children. During this career, I have had the privilege of being the mother of 2 children, both of whom were born preemies. My son spent the first 3 weeks of his life in the NICU, being cared for by a team of skilled nurses and doctors. My long daily visits and late nights gave me a new insight into “impact”. When Dr. Megan Nickels shared the concept of a Pediatric School at Nemours at a staff meeting in January of 2018, I knew it was something I needed to find out more about and that it could be an opportunity to broaden my “impact”, not only for children with critical illnesses, but also for our UCF elementary education interns.
Fast forward to December 2018, and PedsAcademy is a reality and fully operationalized. I knew that the school would have an academic and social “impact” on the children at Nemours, but what I was not sure about was the “impact” on our elementary education interns. Here are just a few of the ways PedsAcademy has “impacted” our UCF students:
- Social/emotional empathy and personal development
- Understanding the role of motivation at a deeper level
- Development of communications skills with various stakeholders
- Teacher withitness – adaptability, flexibility,
- Making accommodations and modifications for students with disabilities and children with critical illnesses related to assessment and instruction
We look forward to expanding and perfecting our model of hospital-based education and having an even greater “impact” on children’s’ lives and our UCF students.
Dear Michelle and Lee-Anne,
Ever since I began my line of work in children’s hospitals, each year has seen many joyful moments and memories made with children, and one or two happenings that I can vividly recall in great detail—the big moments, the ones that changed me indelibly.
I’ve been struggling with how to adequately express my gratitude to the two of you. The best I can do, is to share one of the biggest moments of my career and my life, because the two of you were the cause.
It was our January 2018 faculty meeting in the MIRC. During her remarks at the opening of the meeting, Dean Carroll included the ‘new pediatric school’ at Nemours on a slide that listed the new programs coming to our college. I hadn’t excepted her to do so, and, as such, I did not come prepared to speak about what the program would entail, but when it turned to our department meeting I decided to speak up and say what little I could about the program at that stage so that when the time came to let colleagues know what initiatives their students may choose to be involved in, it wouldn’t be so surprising.
I said my brief bit, my usual two cents on why the work is needed for these children and that it would involve our pre-service teachers to some extent. Then, I asked the question I thought I knew the answer to, the one that I learned to ask out of habit but didn’t require me to listen for a response. In 6 years, very few colleagues have answered me in the affirmative. Is anyone interested in doing this with me?
Two hands went up (or, more accurately, one hand, twice).
One. Michelle, you raised your hand and said you’d be interested in being a part of it and learning more. Two. You raised your hand a second time and said you thought Lee-Anne would be very interested too.
The memory probably seems insignificant to the both of you, but to me it was everything. It’s difficult to express what that moment meant unless you’ve experienced doing your life’s work, your truest passion, in isolation for a very long time. I’ve known from the start, my line of work would draw very few because it asks the doer to be brave in the face of many unknowns, to face heartbreak, to risk health, to learn the complexities and day-to-day operations of another field (medicine), and to set aside what’s usual in our practice of teaching. In the moment those two hands went up, and two names were on my list, I knew my dream was possible.
Since then, you have both devoted countless hours to PedsAcademy. You gave your spring and summer to imagining all the details of our program, from hiring our amazing postdocs to writing our student handbook and everything in-between. Besides Norm Jeune and Terri Finkel, no other people have done as much to develop and implement PedsAcademy as the two of you. Your work and presence at PedsAcademy is irreplaceable, and I am proud beyond words of our little program. I am proud to have done it with both of you. Not only has my career and life been forever changed by the both of you, but so too are the lives of each of our interns and every child who is served by PedsAcademy.
My forever and most sincere thanks,