Creating a Learning Community

Creating a Learning Community

New Collaborative Partners SOE with Birmingham City Schools

cityschoolspartnershipUAB has long been committed to solving the unique educational challenges that exist in urban school systems. To that end, the UAB School of Education has joined with Birmingham City Schools to announce its Innovative Learning Collaborative—a partnership between faculty and students and Birmingham teachers, principals and the school system’s upper administration to form a learning community that improves education and benefits for students and all involved entities.

The participating schools are Glen Iris Elementary and EPIC Elementary. Both are located adjacent to UAB’s campus and, because of existing partnerships and proximity, are ideal for the initial collaboration, says Lynn Kirkland, Ed.D., chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

“I am hoping that we are able to create an atmosphere where excellence is the norm for students, teachers and the university,” says Michael Wilson, Ph.D., principal of Glen Iris.

“The collaboration between these entities is not new,” says Vicki Stokes, Ed.D., principal of EPIC. “We have worked together for many years. The difference is that there will be a more defined purpose and planning, such that the relationship and its benefits will last for years to come.”

The components include hands-on, in-classroom training for School of Education students, tools and resources for Birmingham schoolteachers and principals, collaborations among the groups to provide community education that include literacy efforts and partnerships to apply for funding for various initiatives such as innovative after-school programing. The partnership will also generate collaborative research that will provide instructional strategies that can be used in urban education.

Wilson and members of his staff, as well as Stokes and her administration, have been meeting regularly with UAB faculty to create a partnership they hope will make an impact.

“The collaboration between these entities is not new,” says Vicki Stokes, Ed.D., principal of EPIC. “We have worked together for many years. The difference is that there will be a more defined purpose and planning, such that the relationship and its benefits will last for years to come.”

“They are invested as much as we are,” says Deborah Voltz, Ed.D., dean of the School of Education. “We all have skin in the game.”

This past summer, the group acquired a memorandum of understanding signed by the Birmingham Board of Education. Craig Witherspoon, Ed.D., superintendent for Birmingham City Schools, says he hopes this initiative will become a district model.

“For the past few years, we’ve established and nurtured professional learning communities within our schools,” Witherspoon reports. “This partnership allows us to expand that concept and, not only broaden our base of knowledge and professional network, but also create additional opportunities for collaborative learning.”

Ultimately, the goal is to expand into the schools into which Glen Iris and EPIC feed, being there to assist students as they progress throughout their educational careers. “We are spending all the time we need to make this right,” Kirkland says. “Next is middle school, then high school. We want to help them feel as though we are with them every step of the way.”

Another expected outcome is highly trained teachers who have relationships with potential employers, as well as creating a UAB presence in the classrooms that could inspire students to consider attending UAB.

“When you think about recruitment, the students will have seen us all along,” Kirkland said. “Then they will want to come to UAB.”

Voltz is excited about that. “It does take a village to prepare a teacher and train a child,” she says. “We want to help to infuse new energy into the P-12 schools.”

Teacher of the Year

State of Education

UAB SOE Alumni Serve As Alabama’s Top Teachers

By Javacia Harris Bowser

Alabama Teacher of the Year is much more than a title on a plaque. It’s a reward that carries great responsibility for the winning educators, who become the voice of teachers across the state. Here, three UAB School of Education alumni who have received the prestigious honor describe their time as education advocates.

Changing the Conversation

alison grizzle TOY

Since May 2013, when Alison Grizzle, Ed.D., became Alabama Teacher of the Year, she has met with students, fellow teachers, colleges, chambers of commerce, and school officials statewide, speaking at events focusing on everything from leadership to curriculum standards. It’s a demanding schedule for the math teacher at Birmingham’s Jackson-Olin High School, who earned her master’s in education at UAB in 1999. But it’s worth it if she can help change the national conversation about education, Grizzle says.

“There’s been a move over the last few years to paint teachers as part of the problem,” she says. “That’s not helping us recruit the youngest and brightest to the field. If we want our schools to remain competitive globally, we need the best in the classroom. We need people fighting to be teachers.”

Grizzle also would like to see measures of teacher performance that don’t simply rely on test scores. That would help avoid what Grizzle calls “painful” messages. Labeling a school as “failing” because it doesn’t reach particular benchmarks can discourage students and faculty when the school actually is improving, she notes. She also worries about the impact of such messages on the educational aspirations of students in poverty.

“I hear how American schools are failing, but we focus on educating all children,” Grizzle says. “Some countries we praise for education don’t provide it for everyone, so we’re comparing apples to oranges.

“All students can learn, but we don’t always create avenues so that all students can be successful,” she adds. One of her objectives as Teacher of the Year is to speak for disadvantaged students who are often underrepresented in conversations about education, she says.

Great teachers have both “passion and compassion,” Grizzle says. The passion must encompass both the content they teach and the learning process, she notes. “The kids will see the light in your eye and become excited just because of your excitement,” she says. “And you have to be compassionate because today’s youth go through so much. It’s not about letting students use their circumstances as an excuse, but giving them the scaffolding and support to rise above them.”

Champions for Learning

0114 TOY perry lgTonya Perry, Ph.D., won the 2000 Alabama Teacher of the Year Award when she taught eighth-grade English at Hoover’s Berry Middle School. That led to meeting President George W. Bush and seeing the White House Rose Garden, but Perry believes the most significant part of her year was the time she spent visiting Alabama schools, including the day she read to elementary students in rural Russell County. “You would have thought I was Princess Diana,” Perry says with a laugh, recalling her warm welcome. “That reception is a constant reminder of the importance of teachers in the lives of their students.”

"The people who don't do the job as well tend to get the most attention. Teaching should be talked about in the affirmative more often.”
—Tonya Perry

Perry also enjoyed meeting with Miles College students and professors. “It was enlightening to talk with people in teacher education and to get their feedback about teacher preparation,” she says. Today, Perry is in teacher education herself, serving as assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in UAB’s School of Education. Perry earned her master's in 1995 and her doctorate in 2007 in a joint program from UAB and the University of Alabama.

Perry believes there is a misconception about the overall quality of teachers in the education system. “The people who don’t do the job as well tend to get the most attention,” Perry says. “Teaching should be talked about in the affirmative more often.”

Perry is hopeful about the field’s future because of what she learned as Teacher of the Year. “Teachers do have a voice,” Perry says. “When we’re in our classrooms, we don’t always see how many people are championing us and our children.” 

Great Teachers, Great Results

Ann Dominick, Ed.D., who earned her master’s at UAB in 1987, won the 1999 Alabama Teacher of the Year Award while teaching at South Shades Crest Elementary School. She says she enjoyed visiting classrooms across the state to help students and fellow teachers with math education and follow their progress. As a result, she became a math coach for Hoover City Schools. Now, as an assistant professor of elementary and early childhood education at UAB, Dominick still considers herself a math coach. “The age of the learner is different, but the learning is the same,” she says. “And the way I teach is the same. I’m still trying to find out where students are and take them forward.”

0114 TOY dominick lg

While traveling, Dominick also realized that the quality of education for students can vary drastically, even within a school. That’s something she would like to change about the education system, she says. “All kids should be able to have great teachers,” Dominick explains. “Great teachers know how to listen. They have a passion for people and for learning. They know how to find out where students are and help them advance to the next stage. They believe all students can learn.”

Dominick doesn’t believe in quick fixes for education problems, however. “There’s no one-size-fits-all solution that will take care of everything, whether it’s charter schools or anything else,” she says. She also disagrees with attempts to apply business models to education. “When teachers know content well, when they know how children learn, and when they have a passion for helping children learn, you get results,” she says.


Center for Exercise Medicine Names Distinguished Lecture Series after Researcher Gary Hunter

Center for Exercise Medicine Names Distinguished Lecture Series after Researcher Gary Hunter

gary hunterGary Hunter, Ph.D., knew pretty quickly that something was up when he stepped to the front of a packed Finley Conference Center to deliver the Center for Exercise Medicine’s recent lecture and saw his wife Becky standing in the back of the room.

“I’m a little bit nervous today,” said Hunter, professor of exercise physiology in the Department of Human Studies in the School of Education. “Not only am I talking to my esteemed colleagues, but my wife is here. She’s never heard me talk before.”

Becky was in on the ruse that Hunter would learn about only after he presented his lecture on the benefits of high-intensity exercise. That was when Center for Exercise Medicine Director Marcas Bamman, Ph.D., informed him he had just been honored in a unique way: He was the first person to speak as part of the Gary R. Hunter Distinguished Lecture series, an event that will be held every spring.

“His work is truly internationally recognized, and he’s a true innovator and leader,” Bamman said. “Our center and colleagues in this room thought it was important we recognize Gary’s contributions after nearly 30 years at UAB, and that’s why we’re naming a lecture in his honor. We’re very happy to call him one of our own.” The Department of Human Studies, the Diabetes Research & Training Center and the Nutrition Obesity Research Center (NORC) are co-sponsors of the Hunter Distinguished Lecture.

Hunter, a Michigan native, came to UAB in 1984 and has been an international leader in exercise adaptation, energy metabolism and body composition research. He has conducted a number of studies on obesity, particularly in women, and on the aging population. Hunter has more than 250 peer-reviewed publications and has had National Institutes of Health funding throughout his career.

“It’s a phenomenal track record of productivity,” Bamman said.

“I try to convince people that high-intensity exercise is important,” Hunter said. “It’s important in helping us prevent obesity and maintaining a higher level of physical activity, which we know are important. You can’t have high fitness without high-intensity exercise.”

hunterImpact in many areas

Hunter’s research also has been very relevant to investigators in diabetes, said Timothy Garvey, M.D., director of the Diabetes Research and Training Center.

“He’s helped out our investigators and our overall research efforts tremendously,” Garvey said. “Gary is just an exemplary scientist who adheres to the most rigorous principles. And the major benefit to UAB is that he passes this approach along to trainees and is really training the next generation of scientific leaders.”

Indeed, when Bamman asked the 80-plus people at the lecture if they had been mentored or tutored by Hunter in some way, more than half in the room raised their hand.

Bamman remembered searching for a place to attend graduate school in 1988 as a college junior and came across Hunter’s name at UAB.

Hunter, a Michigan native, came to UAB in 1984 and has been an international leader in exercise adaptation, energy metabolism and body composition research. He has conducted a number of studies on obesity, particularly in women, and on the aging population. Hunter has more than 250 peer-reviewed publications and has had National Institutes of Health funding throughout his career.

“This was one place, pretty much the only place in the country that really cared about strength training, and I thought, ‘Who is this person?’” Bamman said. “I did some research and really looked into what Gary had accomplished early in his career, and decided this is where I wanted to come and train as a master’s student. It was a very fruitful time for me to be here.”

Hunter said one of his goals as a researcher always has been to pass along to others whatever knowledge he’s been able to gather. He’s always hopeful that whatever wisdom he might be able to impart will leave a positive impression.

“One of the things I’ve always believed is that if you could have even just a small impact on the people you work with — maybe you mentor them for a while — that’s how you live,” Hunter says. “You live through them. After you’re gone, whatever you’ve been able to do to help them, that’s your legacy.”

Hunter received his bachelor’s degree from Eastern Michigan University and did his graduate training at Michigan State University, where he received his master’s and his doctorate in exercise science.

Shortly after graduating from Michigan State, Hunter became the head strength coach for the country of Bahrain and spent two years running its strength and conditioning program as part of a joint appointment with the University of South Alabama and the U.S. Sports Academy. Hunter directed the country’s sports medicine and strength training programs and coached its Olympic weight lifting team. 

After his return to the United States, Hunter was on faculty at the University of Wisconsin for three years before he was recruited to UAB in 1984. He was named the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Sports Scientist of the Year in 1994 and had visiting professorships at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland in 2000 and at Queensland University of Technology in Australia in 2005.

Champion of fitness

Hunter was a standout athlete in his youth — a fact shown in pictures provided by his wife for the lecture. 

Hunter played football at Western Michigan University and football and basketball in the Air Force. He also coached the Michigan State University weight lifting team and was a weight lifting world record holder and champion in power lifting and Olympic lifting.

Co-workers and students still marvel at Hunter’s physical condition, and the 70-year-old still regularly plays basketball, among other workouts.

“The guy looks unbelievable,” Garvey said. “He’s in better shape and looks younger than many 20- and 30-year-old graduate students. He’s like an Energizer Bunny.”

Hunter said exercise training is important at any age and doubly so as people age, primarily due to muscle atrophy, which is caused partly by aging and partly by inactivity.

“If we do high-intensity training, which needs to include resistant and aerobic training, you will have more muscle for a longer period of your life,” Hunter said. “For example, if I were to quit training at my advanced age, although I’ve lost a lot of muscle, I’ll lose it much more rapidly than other 70-year-olds who have never trained. But if I keep training, I’ll end up having much more muscle than the average 70-year-old.”

Hunter said he became an exercise researcher primarily due to the influence of Roland Weinsier, M.D., Dr. P.H., who founded the Clinical Nutrition Research Center (now NORC) in 1996.

“Roland got his first R01 grant 20-plus years ago, and we started doing some work together,” Hunter says. “I happened to have an underwater weighing tank for us to use, and we grew the energy metabolism core in nutrition science. He was very interested in obesity research, and I was very interested in exercise training, so we combined our expertise and knowledge and started writing grants and doing research. One study led to another, and another and another. That’s really how it started.”

His tenacity and humble personality have made Hunter a go-to person at UAB for exercise, obesity and diabetes research for almost 30 years. But Hunter still had a hard time processing the honor his colleagues bestowed upon him.

“That they would do this for me is overwhelming,” Hunter said. “I’m totally overcome. All I can say is thank you. I’m tremendously honored.”

Grants Allow UAB to Expand EL Efforts

Grants Allow UAB to Expand EL Efforts

Dr.-Spezzini-working-with-ESL-graduate-studentsThree grants totaling more than $5 million for effective instruction of English learners (ELs) will enable UAB’s School of Education to continue its decade-long tradition of training Alabama teachers to instruct children who speak English as a second language.

Investigators Julia Austin, Ph.D., director of Educational Services in The Graduate School, and Susan Spezzini, Ph.D., associate professor of curriculum and instruction, received three of the more than 70 grants awarded nationwide by the U. S. Department of Education Office of English Language Acquisition.

The granting period is May 2012 to April 2017 and will enable an average 48 students per year to begin a graduate degree program almost fully funded. Of the $5 million, some 47 percent of those funds will come to UAB for tuition and fees.

The grants will aid teachers in the Enterprise City, Etowah County and Jefferson County school systems where EL student populations have been growing rapidly for much of the past decade.

“These are areas and counties that are hungry and thirsty for help,” Spezzini says. “In the case of Enterprise and Etowah, they came to us and wanted to know what they needed to do to be trained. They are concerned about these students and want their teachers and aides to have English as a second language (ESL) certification and a master’s degree.”

The grants come on the heels of other funded EL projects run by Austin and Spezzini since 2001, including Shelby STARS (Sheltered Teaching Accommodations for Reaching Success), Project HEART (Homewood Educators Accommodating Reading and Teaching) and Project EQUAL.

The granting period is May 2012 to April 2017 and will enable an average 48 students per year to begin a graduate degree program almost fully funded. Of the $5 million, some 47 percent of those funds will come to UAB for tuition and fees.

The new grants are similar in structure, but there is a greater focus on producing ESL teacher leaders. Teacher leaders refer to teachers who want to remain in the classroom, but may take a leadership role either in their subject area, grade or school level and coach other teachers.

“There are many ESL teachers already out there who take significant roles in their schools either administratively or as team leaders,” Austin says. “They may provide ESL professional development for their school system or work with their administration on planning and long-term goals. We need more of these teacher leaders in our schools, and these grants will enable us to further their leadership skills and training.”

All three of the school systems represented in the grants have seen their English learner population climb at fast rates. Etowah County’s student body, for example, has grown 5 percent since 2006, but its EL student body increased 46 percent during that same time.

“Etowah County is very excited about this grant and the opportunities it provides to our students and teachers,” says Melissa Shields, director of continuous improvement and EL for Etowah County. “We’ve already witnessed tremendous success in our EL Program, largely due to our partnership with UAB. We fully expect continued growth in both EL instruction and EL student success through this initiative. We are very eager to get started and are grateful for UAB’s investment in our schools.”

Oveta Pearce, director of federal programs for Enterprise City Schools, says the Southeast ECHO grant (ELs Charting new Horizons and Opportunities) will provide opportunities for teachers to significantly enhance their knowledge and skills in an area of need.

julia austin ESL

“Our English learner population has consistently increased in recent years, and our teachers have continued to need specific coursework, training and professional development in working with ELs,” Pearce says. “This grant will allow this goal to become a reality. Our students will benefit greatly. We are extremely fortunate to partner with UAB in this endeavor. The news of this opportunity has created a wave of excitement in our area.”

STEM focus

These grants also will focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics-based — or STEM — courses.

Every enrollee receiving tuition support as part of the grant must take at least one ESL-STEM course as part of their training. “It’s focused professional development,” Austin says. “That’s kind of a federal priority, too, not just from the funding agency providing these grants.”

The grants also will enable Austin and Spezzini to continue working with other higher education faculty in other schools of education, which is a key. The state of Alabama set forth guidelines in fall 2007 that all teachers certified in Alabama must be prepared to work with diverse students, particularly ELs. In order to do that, all teacher-certification courses should be integrated with information about how to adapt their content for special education students or an EL. To make that happen, however, many faculty at higher education institutions need support because many instructors have never been trained themselves.

UAB has provided this support in past years in the form of seminars, workshops and one-on-one support. Austin says UAB will continue to support faculty at UAB and other institutions that feed teachers into the partnering school systems.

The grant also provides stipends for faculty who rewrite a course syllabus to integrate the English learner, and ongoing assessments will continue through the duration of the grants.

“We’re here to help them,” Austin says. “We provide structured support for faculty, and they know they can contact us if they want additional help.”

UAB’s Master’s Program for Teaching ESL has become one of the most effective in the nation. When the two-year program first began in 2001, there were three teachers who had finished UAB’s ESL certification program. More than 350 teachers have completed the program in the past 11 years — an average of more than 30 per year — and about two-thirds have received grant support.

Austin and Spezzini have been asked by the Office of English Language Acquisition to present at their workshops on several occasions and provide guidelines, tips and suggestions to their colleagues at other universities who have ESL grants. The program has had five publications in the past five years, and preliminary data is beginning to come in from a 10-year longitudinal grant study in Baldwin County, which was funded in 2001. The early data, they say, looks promising.

“This is a high-academic program, and teachers are prepared when they complete it,” Austin says.

“There is this myth that ESL teachers have to know the languages of the students they’re teaching,” Spezzini says. “Well, no, they don’t, and they don’t need to know. They need to be trained to teach ELs. That’s what we do. We train teachers, and we have a track record of success.”

Visit for more information on the program.


Wise Counsel

Wise Counsel

Clinic Provides Valuable Service to Students and Community


Life is hard, but for people who live or work in the Birmingham area, the UAB School of Education’s Community Counseling Clinic is here to help.

The clinic, now beginning its third year of operation, provides outpatient mental-health counseling to the community, while giving graduate students hands-on experience treating a wide range of mental-health needs. “A couple of years ago, we decided to expand the scope of the lab and turn it into a functioning clinic to provide this service to the community,” says Sean Hall, Ph.D., clinic director and an assistant professor in the Department of Human Studies. “The clinic is now an internship site for students, where they have the unique opportunity to have direct access to the faculty while providing care to clients who often wouldn’t have access to other types of mental health care in the area.”

A Comprehensive Approach

The Counselor Education Program (CEP), which has been training students at UAB for more than 40 years, has two specialty tracks—school counseling and clinical mental-health counseling. Prior to the creation of the Community Counseling Clinic, students were completing internships at various mental health settings in the surrounding community. And while many students still perform internships at off-campus sites, the clinic provides a unique level of supervision.

“The clinic is now an internship site for students, where they have the unique opportunity to have direct access to the faculty while providing care to clients who often wouldn’t have access to other types of mental health care in the area.”

“The students are the primary mental-health providers,” says Hall, “but the difference between this clinic and other internships is that our lab has recording equipment that allows us to document every aspect of these sessions.” As students conduct counseling sessions, faculty and other students are able to observe from another room, writing their observations and feedback. “Every session is taped, with the client’s permission,” Hall says, “and, like football coaches, we can then ‘break down the tapes,’ and review, either individually or with the class to examine the skills and techniques the students demonstrate in session. Every aspect is managed so that the students can get the most efficient and comprehensive training experience while still providing the highest level of care to the clients.”

An Important Alternative

While the training students receive is crucial to their education, Hall says the service provided to the community cannot be overstated. “Clients come to us if they are uninsured or if they have financial difficulties that prevent them from accessing other mental-health services,” Hall says. “We provide another option for them to get the support they need, whether they are dealing with mental-health issues or related substance-abuse problems, or just normal developmental difficulties, such as the loss of a loved one or adjusting to a job loss.” For more serious cases, Hall says the clinic will refer clients out to various hospitals or community partners.

Each counseling session costs $5.