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Washington State University
College of Education

February 2012

A special education seminar and the sisters who made it possible

Michael Dunn knew about “special needs” long before he began his career in education. His dad couldn’t hear. Family members learned to cope with that on their own. They had to; they lived in a rural Canadian town far from health services.

First as a school teacher and then a researcher, Michael turned his focus to written words. The associate professor at WSU Vancouver, part of the College of Education’s special education program faculty, studies ways to help kids — with or without an obvious disability — who struggle with writing. He shared his expertise last week at the first graduate seminar supported by the Wilma Kamerrer Special Needs and Special Education Endowment.

WSU Associate Professor Michael Dunn
Michael Dunn

“Writing can be so taxing on students that they have little mental energy left for composing,” Michael said at the Pullman event.

His solution is a three-step teaching method in which students are asked to draw a picture that tells a story. Then they’re told to think about the story. Only then do they actually write the story down.

That approach syncs with Michael’s interest in response to intervention, or RTI. In a nutshell, RTI means not giving up on a student who is struggling. It involves screening for problems, providing help, and monitoring to make sure the student progresses.

“It’s not the traditional ‘wait to fail’ approach, where a student gets to grade three and only then do you decide what kind of help he needs,” said Michael, who is certified to teach RTI methods.

RTI can be expensive. It takes time and the involvement of specialists. But there are things teachers can do on their own to help students, and that’s part of what Michael discussed at the seminar. Soaking up his advice were master’s and doctoral students, including ones who will take their knowledge back to communities as far away as Ghana and Saudi Arabia.

The seminar also featured a presentation by Connie Beecher, a recent WSU doctoral graduate who gave advice on how to communicate research and scholarship agendas.

Sisterly support for education

Kamerrer sisters Wilma and Helen in Italy, 1958
Kamerrer sisters Wilma and Helen in Italy, 1958

The Wilma Kamerrer Special Needs and Special Education Endowment, like so much philanthropy, has roots in a personal connection.

Wilma was a farm girl born on the Palouse in 1927. She grew up to be the first female president of the Seattle First Bank branch in Pullman, according to Kate Kamerrer, who is married to Wilma’s nephew and is director of accounting at WSU Facilities Operations.

Wilma, who never married, died of cancer in 1981. Both she and her sister Helen Kamerrer Schmidt, a high school home economics teacher, were big supporters of education in general and WSU in particular.

It was through the estate of WSU alumna Helen – who also died of cancer – that an endowment was established in Wilma’s name. The endowment originally helped support Camp Roger Larson, a camp for children with disabilities that was run for many years by the College of Education. It was founded by Larson, a physical education faculty member.

“The Kamerrer family was friends with the Larson family, and Wilma lived just down the street from Roger and his wife,” Kate recalled. “As a result of their friendship, both Helen and Wilma supported Camp Roger Larson before they died and with their estates.”

Another reason for the sisters’ interest in the camp at Lake Coeur d’Alene was their passion for outdoor adventure. Helen and Wilma travelled, fished, camped, and skied extensively throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.

“We have some great slides of their various trips (several large tubs full in fact) and other fun ‘artifacts’ including skis, tackle boxes, ice skates, and other vintage camping gear.” Kate said.

Teacher alumna lauds brain science, collaboration and WSU

Say you’re a teacher. And you have this popular, mind-expanding lesson plan that gets your seventh graders to explore how people around the world celebrate winter holidays. Only this winter, one of your students is a Jehovah’s Witness. His family doesn’t believe in celebrating holidays.

Do you design a separate curriculum for that young man and risk making him feel left out?

Cram Middle School students in Civil War 'battle'
Barb Godby's lesson planning led to Civil War 'battle'

Not if you’re Barb Godby. In that case, you work with a colleague to come up with the massively engaging and educational Civil War re-enactment described in SpongeBomb SmartyPants: Re-enactment teaches history.

In the WSU News story, the 2005 graduate explains how she learned the importance of teacher collaboration when she studied secondary education at WSU. In an interview, she also praised our faculty for emphasizing that students need different ways to process and make sense of information. “WSU also had a lot of cutting-edge teaching about the brain, about teaching to every child in their own way,” she said of her undergraduate lessons. “That wasn’t the mainstream idea that it is now.”

Barb has worked at Cram Middle School in Las Vegas for five years. She loves teaching seventh and eighth graders, she says, despite “the hormones and the craziness and the angst. It’s my favorite age.” And despite struggling through a case of pneumonia and her grandmother’s death during planning for the first Civil War project, she’s looking forward to working with her colleagues on an even bigger re-enactment in May. “We’re a family here.”

Kinesiology alumnus coordinates student research publication

Justin Ulbright works with students in a Whitworth lab

Justin Ulbright has a lot of things to think about, including cadavers, biceps, and the Paralympics.

The WSU alum (’08) teaches anatomy at Whitworth University, where he oversees dissection in the laboratory. Justin is also a manager and personal trainer at Snap Fitness in Cheney. And he is strength and conditioning coach for Team St. Luke’s, a Spokane wheelchair sports team that has members headed for an international competition in London.

Now he has something else to think about: the Peavy Papers, for which he’s been named coordinator.

“The Peavy Papers is a student portion of a larger journal, the Journal of Kinesiology and Wellness. Undergraduate students submit review and original work to the journal, where it is evaluated by reviewers based on criteria we’ve established,” he said. “Students whose work is accepted may choose to present their papers at the annual Western Society for Kinesiology & Wellness conference.”

WSKW and Washington State have tight connections.

The society’s conference was opened to students in 1999, when WSU’s Professor Larry Bruya introduced the “R.D. Peavy Student Symposium”  in honor of now-retired Associate Professor Bob Peavy. Larry was the first editor of the Peavy Papers. The second was Matthew Silvers (’01) who was Justin’s mentor when Justin went on for his master’s degree at Eastern Washington University. Matt is now an assistant professor at Whitworth and is WSKW’s president-elect.

The society’s western regional representative is Associate Professor Jennifer Beller, another WSU faculty member who is gung-ho for undergraduate research.

While he was at WSU, Justin had two articles published in the Peavy Papers. One of them, aimed at undergraduates, was about how to overcome presentation anxiety within the kinesiology profession. It’s advice that will come in handy for students whose papers he approves.

These days, Justin’s academic interest is improving athletic performance in people with spinal cord injuries. So, he’s making plans to pursue a Ph.D. in exercise physiology. Which gives him something else to think about.