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Past Member Spotlights

Dr. Anya Evmenova

Dr. Evmenova is an associate professor in the Division of Special Education and disability Research, College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University in Virginia, USA. She is originally from Russia, where she earned her first teaching degrees in English and German as Second Languages. Since coming to U.S. in 2001, Dr. Evmenova has earned MAEd. in special education from East Carolina University and Ph.D. in special education and assistive technology from George Mason University. She has taught students with high-incidence disabilities in inclusive and pull-out settings in North Carolina. Based on her own experiences, Dr. Evmenova is passionate about promoting inclusive and accessible education for individuals with a wide range of abilities and needs.

Following that passion, Dr. Evmenova’s international work has focused on the professional development for teachers around the world. She has conducted interactive workshops for:

● Secondary general education teachers in Cameroon as part of the Developing an Inclusive Classroom Culture through Differentiated Teaching Strategies project
● University faculty and special education teachers in Pakistan providing consultation on the use of assistive technology
● General education teachers and school administrators from Argentina focusing on establishing inclusive education practices
● Several cohorts of international general and special education teachers from more than 30 countries who have come to study at George Mason University as part of International Research & Exchanges Board -Teaching Excellence and Achievement (IREX-TEA) program

Dr. Evmenova presenting on inclusive educational practices at University of Management and Technology in Lahore, Pakistan. Attendees include students with hearing impairments.

Many teachers begin their professional development journey with attitudes such as in this quote, “I accept students in disabilities in my class, but I don’t have the training on how to approach them.” Dr. Evmenova’s workshops and interactive hands-on activities always focus on understanding the needs of students with disabilities and creating accessible instruction through the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. She encourages teachers to design their lessons with three UDL principles in mind: (a) engaging students in multiple ways; (b) presenting content in multiple ways; and (c) allowing students to demonstrate what they know in multiple ways. Participating educators experience UDL first-hand and realize how these principles can ensure engaging and personalized learning experiences for all students, not only those with disabilities. In addition, for students with more significant needs, Dr. Evmenova introduces teachers to assistive technology supports: both no/low-tech and freely available high-tech. Dr. Evmenova’s influence can be seen in this quote, “There is a huge benefit for all students in school to have children with disabilities in the same class. And now I know a little bit more about how to support all students through UDL.” Many teachers keep in touch with Dr. Evmenova and send her updates on their inclusive education practices. For some teachers that means making their own classroom more accessible. Others take the inclusive education initiatives to a higher level. For example, one teacher from Malawi has organized a non-profit organization to help establish full inclusion in the educational system in her country.

Dr. Evmenova with a group of international teachers from the IREX-TEA program at George Mason University

Dr. Evmenova’s upcoming project will take place in Kyrgyzstan. Dr. Evmenova has been selected by the U.S. Department of State for the prestigious English Language Specialist Project. The English Language Specialist Program is the premier opportunity for leaders in the field of teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) to enact meaningful and sustainable changes in the way that English is taught abroad. This particular project will focus on working with primary and secondary school teachers who will provide English language instruction for students with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan. There are more than 30,000 children with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan, but only 1/5 of them having access to education. In order to facilitate inclusive education opportunities for all students, Dr. Evmenova will conduct a series of professional development workshops and observations. Teachers will learn about enhancing their instruction with UDL principles and supporting their students with various abilities and needs in four English language skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Participating teachers will develop and teach inclusive and engaging lessons receiving feedback from observations. They will further cascade this knowledge to their fellow educators. The Specialist Program is administered by the Center for Intercultural Education and Development at Georgetown University. For further information about the English Language Specialist Program or the U.S. Department of State, please visit elprograms.org/specialist, contact us by telephone at 202-632-6452, or e-mail ECA-Press@state.gov.

Dr. Robai Werunga

Dr Robai Werunga, DISES Member at Large for Membership Support, is a native of Kenya and lived there for several years before coming to the United States. In Kenya, she earned her first teaching degree in Religious Studies and Swahili at the Egerton University, with which she taught high school for a couple of years. Having gained experience in Special Education in the U.S, Robai recognizes that looking back, so many of her classmates who struggled and were held back in grade school might have had disabilities that went undiagnosed.

Sharing her experiences, Dr. Werunga said not being able to use the degree she earned in Kenya here in the U.S, she found a job working with adults with developmental disabilities, and that is where her journey in Special Education began. “It was quite eye-opening because in Kenya I had very limited knowledge regarding special education supports for an array of disabilities. For example, I had never learned about special education for children with behavioral and learning disabilities. Back in Kenya, “special education” meant special schools to accommodate children who were blind, deaf or those who had physical disabilities”. In recent years there has been emerging awareness for other disabilities, particularly Autism, partly because of the global autism awareness. However, there remains a great need for education, funding and supports for students with Autism and other developmental disabilities. High incident disabilities such as Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) and Emotional & Behavior Disorders (EBD), typically go undiagnosed. Due to this, there are no established structures to provide systematic supports for students who exhibit characteristics such disabilities within regular public schools.

About a decade ago, the Kenyan government put forth a national Special Needs Education policy framework that provides comprehensive strategies and policies to improve services for people with disabilities. Creating advocacy and awareness, revamping the curriculum, incorporating technology, providing teacher training, and improving data collection are some of the recommendations included in the policy framework to enhance special education services and facilitate inclusive practices. Even with this policy in place, providing equitable inclusive education for students with disabilities still largely remains a challenge.

Intrigued by her experiences and recognizing the status of special education in Kenya, Robai decided to pursue a teaching license and master’s degree in special education at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina and continued with a PhD in Special Education at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Robai says the best part of her job is working with preservice teachers to support students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and, working with immigrant families to identify their needs and to support them with the IEP process. Dr. Werunga is currently an assistant professor of special education at University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

Dr. Werunga’ s goal is to promote awareness of high incidence disabilities in her native country of Kenya, by advocating for assessment, diagnosis and interventions that promote positive school outcomes for these students. Currently, Dr. Werunga is focused on providing supports for immigrant Kenyan families who have children with disabilities to become effective advocates for their children in the US. Her work includes webinars that inform these parents about the special education process and their rights and responsibilities. Through this work and deep commitment, she continues to aspire to making her vision a reality for the children and families of Kenya!

Dr. Robai Werunga (on the left) working with students

Dr. Werunga working with a student

Sacha Cartagena

Sacha Cartagena is a first generation American, being born in the United States to a mother from the Dominican Republic and a father from Colombia. She is now a doctoral student in Exceptional Education at the University of Central Florida. Her research is focused on the preparation of educators to work with students with disabilities, especially those with severe disabilities and meeting their social/emotional/behavioral needs. For her dissertation Sacha is proposing to develop an online module using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to teach pre-service educators about implementing evidence- based practices for students with severe disabilities.

Knowing education is still not mandated in many countries, her mother instilled the value of an education in Sacha. Not knowing what she wanted to do when she graduated from high school, and hearing there were many jobs available in special education, she took an introductory course in special education, loved it, and completed her undergrad in special education. Sacha then taught for six years and went to graduate school to pursue her Ph.D. She is planning for a future career teaching educators.

Sacha joined DISES to connect with the international special education community and to learn more about the unique challenges of international special education. She loves to travel and has visited 13 countries. Each time she travels she makes it a point to learn about their education system. In addition to touring in other countries, she has done volunteering such as teaching English to children and pouring concrete floors in the Dominican Republic.

In the Dominican Republic, Sacha learned that while education is technically compulsory, there is little enforcement of this law. As a result, students start education at different ages, graduate at different ages, and about 40% of students drop out before the 8 th grade. Only a few schools offer special education services, resulting in most youth with disabilities not enrolled in school. The country is currently working on large scale education reform, including more funding for more teacher training, updated curriculum, and increased access to equitable education for all students.

Dr. Deborah Tamakloe

Dr. Deborah Tamakloe, newly elected DISES Member at Large for International Outreach, is a native of Ghana and lived there for 33 years before coming to the United States. In Ghana she grew up in a compound house with extended family and non-family members. They would sit out by the fire at night and tell stories because there were no books in the home. Since she grew up with no books in her home, Dr Tamakloe realizes the importance of books in the home. So she now regularly takes books to Ghana for the children. She currently is an associate professor at Millersville University.

When asked to describe the educational programs for students with disabilities in Ghana, she said these children often do not have access to education because of basic challenges, lack of resources and the stigma attached to disabilities. Children with more obvious disabilities are often hidden in their communities, unable or not allowed to go to school. There are a few schools for the deaf or blind that were established by missionaries and one private school for children with low incidence disabilities that is very expensive and beyond the reach of average families. In working with parents of children with disabilities in Ghana, she found many parents of children with disabilities recognized their intelligence, but there are not schools with the resources to meet their needs.

Dr. Tamakloe said this is changing in Ghana with the help of initiatives by philanthropists and not-for-profit groups such as USAID and UNICEF. They are currently leading the mission to create and support inclusive schools where students with disabilities can receive the assistance they need to enable them to attend schools. Four hundred (400) teachers in 80 basic schools have been trained in inclusive education to provide access for children with mild to moderate disabilities. Eventually she would like to go back to Ghana to do community work with families of children with disabilities.

A selfie Dr. Tamakloe took of some of the children in her book club.

Dr. Tamakloe and the Library Project in Ghana.

Dr. Tamakloe leading one of many professional development sessions In Ghana.

Jessica N. Lee

Jessica N. Lee (jessicalee1logn@gmail.com) is the sole special education teacher and case manager in an international k-12 school in Umm al Quwain, United Arab Emirates, a position she has held since August, 2018. In this position, she designs learning interventions for students needing equitable special education services as well as for students referred for learning support services using the RtI model. Jessica also leads teacher-centered professional development on the provision of inclusive practices for students who need them and collaborates with teachers on inclusive and best practices for students with varying differences.

Prior to this position Jessica was a special education teacher for English and literature in Pennsylvania (William Penn School District and Delaware Valley Charter High School). She received her B.A. in History and M.A. in Secondary Education with certifications in English and Special Education from Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia. She also holds a graduate certificate in Mind, Brain, and Teaching from Johns Hopkins University.

Jessica’s previous research interests were about the transitional nature of education, one of the factors leading her to the UAE. She now studies neuroeducation and hopes to apply neuroscience research to educational practices and organizations. Her most memorable experiences in the U.A.E. are those involving the resourcefulness of her bilingual students wanting to learn and their parents welcoming her into their homes via virtual learning during COVID-19.

Dr. Nicole DeClouette

Dr. Nicole DeClouette (nicole.declouette@gcsu.edu) is a special education professor at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Georgia. She has worked in Tanzania for the last four years (since 2016) establishing partnerships with schools and community centers in Lushoto and Arusha to establish a Tanzania study abroad program for her university students. Dr. DeClouette works with Sebastian Kolowa University that is known for training special education teachers. In July, 2020 she will be taking a 4th group of students: 1) to study East African geography, culture and language (Swahili), 2) to observe and volunteer at local schools and community centers serving individuals with disabilities and 3) to explore Masai culture and their cultural understanding of disability translated into teaching practices and community inclusion/exclusion.

Dr. Marisa Macy

Dr. Marisa Macy (Marisa.Macy@ucf.edu) teaches early childhood classes and is a researcher in special education at the University of Central Florida. She does research related to young children with disabilities and is the co-director of the early childhood abroad experience in Germany. Dr. Macy has had international experience with the Fulbright Council for International Exchange of Scholars and currently with UNESCO. She helped write a position statement with a UNICEF team to address the needs of young children with disabilities around the world. Her particular research interests are international research on the early identification of infants, toddlers and preschoolers with delay/disability/special health care needs.

Sally Loughborough

Working in International Schools - In Her Own Words

I’m in my second position establishing a Student Support department in a relatively small international school program. I previously worked for five years at Chiang Mai International School in Thailand and am now at Huamao International School in Ningbo, China.

International schools today generally have large numbers of local students. ‘International’ often means only that the curriculum is taken from western countries and is taught in English. In Chiang Mai, only about 30% of our students were from non-Asian countries and here in Ningbo, nearly all of our students are Chinese. The curriculum in Chiang Mai was rooted in the US Common Core and AP curriculum and here in Ningbo, we follow the IB program from primary through high school.

Special Education overseas looks a bit different, of course. Part of that is cultural - there’s still quite a lot of stigma associated with any kind of diagnosis or recognition of difference. It can be hard for parents and teachers to see that identifying learning challenges can be helpful in providing more effective support in class. Fortunately, all major end-of-school exams (such as the SAT or GCSE) now offer accommodations, with proper documentation, and many colleges and universities abroad offer accommodations to students with learning challenges, so that’s encouraging more families and teachers to see the value of getting children’s needs identified and addressed.The other challenge is finding qualified professionals to provide the diagnosis and specialized treatments. OTs or SLPs or other therapists fluent in a local language and English are often hard to find and they may have long wait times.

And what kind of learning challenges do we see? Much like it is in the US, the majority of our students have dyslexia, followed by ADHD and some students with ASD. Most of these students have a lot of family support and with in-class accommodations and skills practice, are able to succeed in academically challenging programs like the IB and AP. Most days my work ranges from working 1:1 on skills with students or supporting kids in class, to working with teachers on lesson planning to implement Universal Design for Learning models that support all students to creating administrative systems so that the school will continue to offer Student Support even after I’ve moved on.

Dr. Kevin Miller

Dr. Kevin Miller (kevinmiller432@gmail.com) is Adjunct Professor at Concordia University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln both in Nebraska. As a part of a Fulbright grant in 2016, he taught courses at Armenian State Pedagogical University Including Educational Assessment, Overview of Speech-Language Pathology and Technology and Communication Disorders. He also initiated a case study examining the inclusionary practices of 2 elementary/middle schools, specifically focusing on how these schools support students who are deaf or hard of hearing. For this study he interviewed special education teachers, general education teachers, administrators, speech-language pathologists, school psychologists, parents and students. He looks forward to publishing his results and presenting them. Dr. Miller was especially impressed with the variety of persons and organizations positively impacting the lives of persons with disabilities by changing perceptions of Armenian society towards persons with disabilities and promoting the passage of laws supporting the inclusion of persons with disabilities in general education classrooms. Despite very limited resources these individuals and groups have made great strides in helping Armenians favor inclusion for all. You may contact him at his email address provided above or at 215-872-4767.

Dr. LaSonya Moore

Dr. LaSonya Moore (llmoore@mail.usf.edu) is an Assistant Professor at the University of South Florida. Her research interests are focused on urban special education, leadership persistence and retention of urban teachers and leaders. She is dedicated to improving educational outcomes of individuals with exceptionalities while improving opportunities for those who teach, lead and work side-by-side our students every day. Her conceptual framework is grounded in equity and social justice with an emphasis on dismantling social, emotional and academic gaps for our neediest populations. She is doing this research in London, China and Haiti. In Haiti she is examining Leadership Preparation for Women through Building Partnerships, Globalization and Poverty while in China her work is concerned with Building a Culture of Care, Civility Collegial Communication and Co-Creation through inclusionary Practices, Live, Learn and Lead, building bridges of hope. For more information you may contact her via her email or the number she provided: 727-432-2846.

Mark Francis

Mark Francis is the immediate past president of DISES and Jamaica DISES conference planner. Previously he served for a number of years as treasurer. He is a former local and county director of special education in Michigan. He has been very involved with professional development and training in other countries as well as in the U.S. since his retirement from the school district. In the U. S. he is doing training with the Bureau of Indian Education, and he has conducted systems analysis for a number of school districts on the qualities of their special education programs.

In 2016 Mark planned, arranged and conducted a successful conference on inclusive education in Havana, Cuba. It was the first ever English-speaking conference in Cuba.

He has done major work in the West Indies including assisting education officials in conducting a conference on inclusive education in Kingston, Jamaica. He was also part of a team that worked on Policy Reform in Tobago. This team included a team from the US, local professionals and members of the Ministry, along with parents and parent advocates. While in Jamaica in 2019, Mark, along with Dr. Alice Farling and Dr. Michele Meredith worked to secure 7 major grants for inclusion for the Caribbean region. This grant will work in developing Inclusive Practices with the governments in the region. Recently Mark has done professional training in Tobago, Poland, Kuwait, South Africa, Dubai and Jamaica.

Dr. Clara Hauth

Clara Hauth (chauth@marymount.edu) is an assistant professor at Marymount University in Arlington, VA. She is actively engaged in research and service in several countries to include Panama, South Africa, Jamaica, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and New Zealand. She conducts professional development with teachers and families along with supports for intervention research. Dr. Hauth frequently involves her students in her work with a focus on the professional exchange of practices, culturally responsive pedagogy and research projects. She had several of her students present with her at recent DISES conferences in South Africa and Jamaica. Engaging in collaborative research and inclusive practices drives her continued passion toward global supports for ALL learners.

Dr. Sharon Ishii-Jordan

Dr. Ishii-Jordan (sij@creighton.edu) is retired Associate Dean and Professor Emerita of Education at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. She is just finishing a two-year grant for conducting teacher training in the rural mountains of northeast India. Although she is completing her current grant for teacher training in India, she continues to serve persons with disabilities and persons with limited English proficiency. She is supervising student teachers in secondary special education, substitute teaching in Omaha inner city in special education and ESL and teaching an occasional class at Creighton University. Dr. Ishii-Jordan is also a volunteer reader for the blind through Radio Talking Book and a volunteer ESL mentor for Afghan refugee women in Omaha. In retirement she continues using her gift of working with people with diverse special needs.

Dr. Robbie Hampton

Dr. Robbie Hampton (robbie.hampton@lipscomb.edu) is an assistant professor of special education at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN who is doing work on several projects in Sierra Leone. with and for children and young adults with disabilities. Her primary work there is with The Covering Tree (The Raining Season) where she is a part of an educational team working with students and staff of the orphanage to provide care and instruction for children with a wide range of disabilities. Dr. Hampton has been approached by EduAfrica to possibly start a program for Lipscomb University candidates.

Her goal in Sierra Leone is to start a special education team to address the needs of children with disabilities. To further this goal she is in the process of creating a course for credit for Lipscomb University candidates who travel to Africa to work with persons with disabilities. She is also in discussions there for a program for meeting the needs of their young adults who are aging out of the program.

Susan O'Rourke

Dr. Susan O’Rourke, former DISES president and department chair and professor of special education at Carlow University, is doing exciting professional development and service in Uganda, Ireland and Belize (previously Nicaragua). She is doing study abroad special education programs with Ireland and Belize. (She’ll be taking a group of students to Ireland this summer.) In Belize she also developed and utilized an assessment tool to measure student learning in the arts.

Dr. O’Rourke is doing extensive work in Uganda encompassing special education program development and service in their communities. Her services to the communities includes raising funds to construct 7 wells in place where access to clean water is quite difficult as well as distribution of eyeglasses. Special education professional development activities there include consultation with faculty at Kisubi University for a new graduate special education teacher preparation program, building of the first inclusive education program in the Teso region and development of a vocational gardening curriculum for students with disabilities. She recently went to Malaysia where she is working on professional development for special education teachers there. Dr. O’Rourke plans to continue this work in these countries and possibly expand to Liberia and Columbia.

Dr. Humberto Rodriguez

DISES member and former DISES president Professor Humberto J. Rodriguez (hrodriguezh@enehrl.edu.mx) recently participated with a distinguished international group of scholars to advise UNESCO on their 2020 Global Educational Monitoring (GEM) project. The GEM report made the following six recommendations on inclusion and equity for all regions of the world.
There must be clear definitions of inclusion and equity.
The identification and elimination of barriers to the participation and progress of all learners is needed to maximize the learning of all students on the basis of rigorous evidence.
Since teachers are key players in promoting inclusion and equity, they must be prepared and supported.
It is very important for the curriculum and assessment procedures to be designed with all learners in mind
Attention should be given to how educational systems are managed and the impact of major structural changes and the impact on vulnerable learners
Communities need to be involved in the development and implementation of policies for promoting inclusion and equity in education.
DISES is proud of the active involvement of its’ members to promote quality inclusive practices that ensure equity and excellence for children and youth with exceptional needs.