Meet Dr. Lee-Anne Spalding

Since the age of twelve, I have known I wanted to educate others. Having taught in the elementary school setting, consulted around the country and currently as an Associate Lecturer in the College of Community Innovation and Education School of Teacher Education, I have fulfilled my passions for teaching others in many settings. I thoroughly enjoy learning and am proud to be a triple KNIGHT, having earned all three degrees from UCF!

My research interests center around reading motivation, access to books and quality children’s literature. My dissertation was titled: The Impact of Access to Books on the Reading Motivation and Achievement of Urban Elementary Students. Above all, I pride myself on being a teacher practitioner, spending most of my time designing engaging course meetings for teacher candidates and seeking funding sources to provide valuable educational experiences for our teacher candidates and local school children. I have taught numerous courses across three programs in our college however my true passions lie in children’s literature and social studies along with designing and coordinating the Capstone experiences for all Internship II Elementary Education majors.

I am also the acting coordinator, advisor, and mentor for the interns in the hospital setting at PedsAcademy. My passion projects include: Read for the Record each fall funded by PNC Bank, KnightED Talks Student Showcase each spring and being the advisor for the Student National Education Association at UCF; both projects which now also take place at PedsAcademy. I am committed to positively impacting future teachers to in turn, have them positively impact our youth.


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Meet Dr. Richelle Joe

I began my career as a high school teacher and then served as a middle school counselor, supporting the career, academic, and psycho-social needs of students in Virginia. My experience as a classroom teacher helped me to understand the contextual factors that affect children and adolescents when they enter the learning environment. I quickly learned that students bring their entire world into the classroom, including the norms, values, and challenges of their homes and communities. Once I acknowledged their realities, my students would learn the history I presented them, even if they claimed to hate the subject. As a school counselor, I never forgot the lessons I learned in the classroom and was able to support students from diverse backgrounds, including students with varying abilities and conditions that affected their educational experiences. As a counselor educator that trains students to serve as counselors in school and community settings, I am able to help these future counselors to conceptualize their clients in a holistic way.

When Dr. Nickels asked me to join PedsAcademy to bring the counseling perspective to the work, I was elated. She and I had talked quite a bit about the social and emotional effects of critical and chronic illnesses on children, adolescents, and families. I am honored to be able to support the teaching interns and faculty by sharing information about family dynamics and empathy, and by creating spaces for them to process their experiences. I look forward to opportunities to broaden the awareness of and support for mental health within Peds Academy.


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Meet Dr. Matthew Taylor

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.



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Meet Dr. Aline Abassian!

Meet Dr. Aline Abassian

Meet Dr. Aline Abassian!

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Meet Dr. Michelle Kelley

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.



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Two Hands—An Open Letter to Drs. Michelle Kelley and Lee-Anne Spalding

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,


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Meet Intern Melanie Espinosa!

Meet Melanie

Meet Intern Melanie Espinosa!

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