Tag Archive | "School of Education and Human Development"


Holocaust Educator Honored by Florida Legislators

Miriam Klein Kassenoff is the director of the School of Education and Human Development’s Holocaust Teacher Institute.

UM News


Miriam Klein Kassenoff

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (February 14, 2018) – A Holocaust survivor and educator, Miriam Klein Kassenoff, director of the School of Education and Human Development’s Holocaust Teacher Institute, was honored by the Jewish Legislative Caucus of Florida for her outstanding work in the Jewish community.

Kassenoff, along with two other Floridians, received the recognition during a breakfast on February 13 in Tallahassee as part of the first Jewish American Heritage Week (February 12-16, 2018) established by Representative Emily Slosberg, of Delray Beach, and Senator Daphne Campbell, of Miami-Dade County.

“I am deeply honored that Representative Slosberg and Senator Campbell have chosen me for this very meaningful tribute,” said Kassenoff. “It has been a long journey for me coming from Nazi-occupied Europe as a young Jewish child fleeing, running, and hiding, clutching my parents’ hands, and finally reaching freedom in the United States of America.”

Kassenoff, who studied at Yad Vashem, the International Center for Holocaust Studies in Israel, is a graduate of the international Vladka Meed Teachers Program and leads the Holocaust Teacher Institute at UM.

Every summer the institute convenes teachers from Miami-Dade County Public Schools and provides them with a five-day intensive course on how to teach the lessons of the Holocaust so that the horrific event will not be forgotten.

In addition to serving as an adjunct lecturer at the School of Education and Human Development, Kassenoff serves as the public school system’s Education Specialist for Holocaust Education. She is a frequent speaker and presenter on Holocaust education at conferences and workshops nationwide and has co-authored, with Dr. Anita Meinbach, “Memories of the Night: Studies of the Holocaust,” “Studying the Holocaust through Film and Literature,” and The Grolier Teacher’s Study Guide on Holocaust Studies.”



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Walter Secada Appointed Acting Dean

UM News

Walter G. Secada

Walter G. Secada

Senior Associate Dean Walter G. Secada, a professor of teaching and learning and an expert in STEM education, has been appointed acting dean of the School  of Education and Human Development until the national search for Dean Isaac Prilleltensky’s successor concludes this spring.

“I have been honored to work with Dean Prilleltensky for these past ten years,” Secada said. “During these next few months, I hope to maintain his legacy and to hand off a well-functioning School of Education and Human Development to his successor.”

Since joining the UM faculty in the fall of 2003, Secada has been associate director and co-principal investigator (PI) of the original Promoting Science among English Language Learners (P-SELL) study, which introduced a hands-on method of learning that dramatically improved test scores among English-language learners in Miami’s elementary schools.

He has served as associate director and co-PI of Science Made Sensible, which pairs doctoral students in the STEM fields with middle school teachers; associate director and co-PI of Replicating the CGI experiment in diverse environments, which helped primary teachers of mathematics focus their teaching on how students reason and learn to solve mathematics problems; and director and PI of Language in Mathematics, designed to help middle school teachers better facilitate mathematics for English-language learners.

At UM, Secada also has served as chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning and as a member of the University’s Social Sciences Institutional Review Board. He also has been a senior Fulbright fellow, helped the Peruvian ministry of education design its new school mathematics curriculum, and been awarded an honorary professorship by Universidad La Salle in Arequipa, Peru.

Born in Lima, Peru, he graduated from Miami’s Curley High School and later left the area to earn a B.A. in philosophy (magna cum laude) from the University of Notre Dame and a Master of Science in Mathematics and a Ph.D. in education from Northwestern University.

He temporarily succeeds Prilleltensky, who stepped down in December after 11 years of distinguished service as dean to devote more time to his scholarly endeavors. After a one-year sabbatical to write a new book, Prilleltensky plans to return to UM as professor of educational and psychological studies and the Erwin and Barbara Mautner Chair in Community Well-Being, and continue his role as vice provost for institutional culture.

“We will be conducting a rigorous national search for a permanent dean of the School of Education and Human Development who will continue to build on our achievements,” Executive Vice President and Provost Jeffrey L. Duerk said in announcing Secada’s appointment. “Please join me in thanking Isaac Prilleltensky for his service and welcoming professor Secada to his new leadership role.”

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Prilleltensky to Step Down as School of Education and Human Development Dean

UM News


Isaac Prilletensky

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (September 1, 2017)—After 11 years of distinguished service, Isaac Prilleltensky has decided to step down as dean of the School of Education and Human Development to devote more time to his scholarly endeavors, Jeffrey Duerk, executive vice president and provost, announced on Friday.

In his announcement, Duerk said Prilleltensky “offered to continue to serve in the deanship until the end of the 2017 fall semester, and I have enthusiastically accepted this offer. Thereafter, he will begin a one-year sabbatical to write a new book. Professor Laura Kohn-Wood, associate vice provost for institutional culture, will oversee the Office of Institutional Culture while he is on leave.”

Throughout the sabbatical, Duerk said, Prilleltensky will continue to provide him and the office consultation and engagement, albeit at a reduced effort, in his duties as vice provost for institutional culture. When he completes his sabbatical, Prilleltensky will return to UM as professor of educational and psychological studies, and Erwin and Barbara Mautner Chair in Community Well-Being, and continue his role as vice provost for institutional culture.

President Julio Frenk and Duerk have begun organizing a committee to conduct a national search for a new dean.

In his message, Duerk noted Prilleltensky’s many accomplishments as dean. Among them:

He instituted successful new programs, including an undergraduate major in Human and Social Development, master’s programs in Community and Social Change, Education and Social Change, and Physical Fitness and Nutrition, and an online Sport Administration graduate program.

He established a Community Well-Being Ph.D. and reinstituted Higher Education master’s and Ed.D. programs. Also under his tenure, the Dunspaugh-Dalton Community and Educational Well-Being Research Center was established, and the school raised $22 million for the last capital campaign.

Under his leadership, the school’s three departments were unified under a single vision and mission, resulting in a 2012 change in name from the School of Education to the School of Education and Human Development.

A focus on the study, promotion, and integration of educational, physical, and psychological well-being in multicultural communities was initiated. The school’s square footage doubled and facilities were consolidated from seven spaces across campus to two buildings, which house four new research labs.

Over the years, Duerk said, Prilleltensky also made significant contributions to the life of the University, including serving on the search committees for the president and the dean of Arts and Sciences. He was also a founding member of the Culture Leadership Team. His work on culture transformation at UM led to his appointment as vice provost for institutional culture in 2016.

While serving as dean, Prilleltensky also maintained an active research program, developing and validating tools for measuring and enhancing well-being, including the Fun for Wellness, an online program now available to all UM faculty and staff.

Since joining UM, his scholarly work has been recognized by the American Psychological Association with three awards, and in 2015 he won an award from the National Newspaper Association for his humor writing in Miami Today.

“Please join me in thanking Isaac for his outstanding service to the school and our University,’’ Duerk said in his announcement. “We wish him the very best for his sabbatical and look forward to his continued vital role in our community upon his return.”

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Learning About Trust at the U: First Star Academy Supports Foster Care Youth

By Michael Malone
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (August 4, 2017)—Trust comes painstakingly slow for many foster care youth, those who spend their childhoods tossed from family to family as they tumble through “the system,” often wondering where “home” will be tomorrow.


School of Law Professor Kele Stewart and counselors enjoy some leisure time with First Star students (not pictured).

Yet for the 20 rising 9th-graders in foster care that comprise the first cohort of the First Star Academy of the University of Miami, “home” has been the University’s Coral Gables campus for five weeks this summer. And trust—together with math, language arts, science and life-skills—has been the focus of their learning as part of this national model that provides a pathway to college for foster care youth.

Bringing such an ambitious program that works with at-risk youth to a college campus requires both visionary leadership and committed partners. The effort has been fueled by the passion of School of Law Professor Kele Stewart and the planning team of Professor Laura Kohn-Wood and Associate Professor Wendy Morrison-Cavendish, both in the School of Education and Human Development (SOEHD).

“Everyone in our program has a trauma history,” Stewart said. “We talked with case managers to determine who would be a good fit. As long as the student fit the criteria and wanted to be here, we were determined to give everyone an opportunity.”

The teens spent their mornings strengthening academics; afternoons focused on life skills, with weekly field trip to see the murals in Wynwood, the Frost Science Museum, a dance performance, and doing a beach clean-up. They ate in the Hecht Dining Hall and slept in the residential colleges.

The same group—with the potential to add 10 more students—returns for the next three summers. During the school year, UM staff from the School of Education and the School of Law will coordinate monthly Saturday meetings with the adolescents and their parents or caregivers while also providing educational advocacy support. The program is funded in this first phase by The Children’s Trust and by Our Kids of Miami Dade/Monroe.


Program director Maria Pia de Castro counsels one of the First Star Academy students.

The dramatic change of scenery, and the commitment and support of the UM team has yielded fast progress for many of the participants.

“You already see the wheels turning,” commented Stewart just a few weeks into the program. “They’re being exposed to a lot of different things, and the youth are very engaged, asking a lot of questions. Their questions are very empathetic and insightful. It’s been nice to see how they’re responding,”

“Meeting the students is huge. Now you have a face, a personality, a history to build around,” explained Morrison-Cavendish, whose research and expertise focuses on special education and juvenile justice education. “There is so much variability in their needs. Being able to meet with students and talk with them to explain that we’re going to be building this together…and to reinforce that this is a four-year program, that we are committing to them—that’s something they generally don’t hear.”

Kohn-Wood and Morrison-Cavendish have been instrumental in developing the design and research protocol for the program. The program promotes positive behaviors that will enable the teens to graduate high school, and enter and succeed in college.

“We use our practice and research to apply to a community in need,” said Kohn-Wood. “Foster kids are one of the most vulnerable groups. It’s heartbreaking that there are federal dollars available to go to many youth, but they’re not able to take advantage of it.”

Federal and some state dollars are available for foster youth to attend college, but lacking the skills, the study habits, the support, they inevitably drop out. First Star seeks to lay a foundation for success.

Deborah Perez, a First Star counselor and UM alumna who is in the second year of her Ph.D. program at the U, understands the challenges the youth would face in navigating the transition to college without an oar of support.

A foster child herself, Perez was raised by her Cuban grandfather—she honors him with a tattoo of his youthful face on her left forearm. She grew up an overachiever, propelled by a drive to excel in one of Miami’s most under-served and impoverished neighborhoods. Perez served as a youth rep on several agency boards, including the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami. Former UM President Donna Shalala sat on the same board and took special notice of this incredible young leader.

“You’re going to come to UM,” Shalala told her. Offered such an incredible opportunity, Perez chose to attend.

“The first weeks at college were a nightmare, I cried myself to sleep every night—no one to talk to, no one to advise me. I was a first-generation college kid,” Perez remembered.


From left, counselors Stephan Ambrose and Alkean Smith, director Maria Pia De Castro, and teacher Deborah Perez talk with Professor Kele Stewart.

The First Star Academy is composed of a cadre of UM alumni and students who serve as teachers, advisors, and support staff. Program director Maria Pia De Castro, a UM alumna, adjunct, and former Miami-Dade County Public School teacher, is the only full-time staff.

“The kids see the unity and cohesiveness of our team—and it’s really good for them to see. It’s been a very positive experience,” said Pia De Castro, adding “we’ve had to prove ourselves from the beginning, to show that we’re really here for them, that it’s not just a summer thing.”

Stephan Ambrose, a rising junior studying public health at UM, Ryan Severdija, a rising junior studying biology, and Alkean Smith, a student at Miami Dade College North, are the three male counselors.

Ambrose says, “The kids test us, wondering if we’re here for the money [stipend paid to counselors], to exploit them. ‘No, we’re here to help your self-awareness,’ we tell them.”

“It’s been a rollercoaster—wonderful some days, some days a tug of war, like we pull them and they pull us. We’ve got through to a couple of them, the others—we don’t ignore them, but we give them their space,” says Smith, noting that the discussion groups where personal stories are shared have had a big impact on him. “The other day one of the kids shared that his mom passed, and mine did too. I feel that.”

Nicole Swanson, a SOEHD alum, is one of the science teachers, and Ambar Alfaro, a School of Communication alumna, teaches language arts.

The summer residential program ended on Friday. The first family session is scheduled for early September to reconvene with the students after they’ve started their high school classes, and to meet with foster parents and caretakers to continue to build family bonds.

“This summer will be our baseline to decide where we really want to go, what these kids need and want, and to develop the plan for the partnerships that we want to develop,” says Morrison-Cavendish.

“We’re doing First Star for a reason, and this program has great potential. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to work on a project with people who are really committed to these students for the right reasons. This is really about the kids,” she adds.


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Can Dance Improve Your Mental Abilities?


Can Dance Improve Your Mental Abilities?

A University of Miami study suggests that both aerobic and more sophisticated dancing can enhance mental capacity.

By Barbara Gutierrez
UM News

DanceCORAL GABLES, Fla. (February 23, 2017) — A study at the School of Education and Human Development showed mental improvements after 10 weeks of dance classes. The findings suggest that exercise might improve mental function by learning new movements, as well as improving aerobic capacity.

The study was conducted at UM’s Laboratory of Neuromuscular Research and Active Aging, in collaboration with Arthur Murray Dance Studio. Sean Nicolle, a graduate of UM’s Doctorate in Exercise Physiology program, led the study and used the findings and analysis as his doctoral thesis.

Forty volunteers, from 40 to 80 years old, participated in 10 weeks of either ballroom or aerobic dance classes. Subjects were tested for mental function, both on a computer and using a movement test in a physical environment at the beginning and at the end of the study.

Why compare aerobic to ballroom dance? The ballroom dance group was focused on learning new steps (movement patterns), while members of the aerobic dance group were busy trying to keep their heart rate up (aerobic capacity).

The researchers found that both groups improved mental functioning. Michela Laureti, of Arthur Murray Ballroom Studio, explained that the mental benefits of ballroom dance come from the process of learning new steps, as well as working with partners. Aerobic dance is thought to improve blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain, and the aerobic dancers might also have had to pay attention to quickly changing movements.

Nicolle explained that the goal wasn’t just to see what kind of dance improves mental function, but to understand how the brain and mind work.

He believes that “the brain adapts in specific ways to what is demanded of it. It doesn’t have to be dance. Everything with a mental demand will make the brain adapt. The mental benefits of dance classes are probably different than those of rock climbing.

“We would expect dance classes to improve mental functions related to rhythm and coordination, while learning something like rock climbing would probably challenge the brain to improve mental functions related to anticipation, planning, and problem solving,” he said.

The study is titled “Impact Of Dance Complexity on Computer-Based And Movement-Based Cognitive Performance.”



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