‘100 years of excellence’

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - 2:30pm
Brad E. Scheler ’74 ’05P ’08P ’09PG, chair of the Lehigh Board of Trustees, joined in the 2-hour anniversary celebration

It was a night of celebration for Lehigh’s College of Education as alumni, faculty, staff and leadership gathered in Iacocca Hall Thursday (May 5) to mark 100 years of education at Lehigh, its 50 years as a College and 50 years of the highly regarded Centennial School for children with educational disabilities.

As part of the festivities, the College unveiled 100 Years of Excellence, a 158-page book that chronicles education at Lehigh. It also honored posthumously Ed Shapiro, who was professor of school psychology and director of the Center for Promoting Research to Practice at Lehigh, as a distinguished educator.

“Our determination to provide leadership in the area of education and human services has never been stronger than it is today,” said Gary M. Sasso, dean of the College of Education, and he praised faculty. “We continue to be at the cutting edge of research and social sciences.”

The work can be difficult, he said. “We don’t deal in truths. We deal instead in probabilities.” For that reason, he said, finding effective ways to improve learning “is not really for the faint of heart.”

President John Simon and Brad E. Scheler ’74 ’05P ’08P ’09PG, chair of the Lehigh Board of Trustees, joined in the two-hour celebration. Also on hand was Darcy Clark Rowell, one of the granddaughters of Percy Hughes, whose influence was paramount in the education program’s growth from department to school and eventually into one of Lehigh’s four colleges.

“Lehigh’s education program, one of the oldest in the country, has been progressive since its inception,” said Scheler, addressing the 200 people attending the anniversary celebration in the Wood Dining Room.

Hughes, who arrived at Lehigh in 1907, revolutionized teaching methods across the university, encouraged curriculum reforms and worked tirelessly to make the university co-educational, he said. Hughes also created extension and summer courses that allowed women to enroll at Lehigh and brought the first female professor to campus to teach summer psychology courses.

In praising the work of COE, Scheler told a personal story about one of his daughters, who, while  student teaching, had worked closely with a student struggling in math. Over time, the student came to understand how to do math and asked his daughter a question: “Are you magic?”

“I want to say to each and every one of you, that you are magic,” said Scheler. “What you do here and the way you change lives is a gift and is as magical as can be.”

A story of empowerment

One of the highlights of the evening was a presentation by Centennial School Director Michael George, who received a standing ovation after detailing how the school has changed students’ lives over the course of its history.

 “The story of Centennial School is really a story about service, empowerment and people,” he said.

From modest beginnings in the mid-1960s, when it served just eight students in the basement of Drown Hall, the school has undergone many changes in 50 years. Founded initially as a school for struggling readers, George said, the student population quickly expanded to include students with behavior problems who needed an alternative to traditional public school education. Then, in the 1970s, the student population came to include those in need of special education.

As the school’s population changed, so too did its methods, paralleling advances in the field, he said.

“As an educational institution dedicated to serving students with disabilities, Centennial School stands today as a testament to the validity of three simple propositions,” he said.

  • “First, that kids, all kids, even ones with emotional and behavior problems, do well in school if they can. And if they don’t do well, it’s likely because they lack the skills to respond adaptively to life’s challenges.”
  • Second, that children viewed as having emotional and behavioral problems  “can learn to think before they act, that they can learn to control their emotions and make appropriate choices and that they can be held accountable for their behaviors once we, the adults in their lives, take the time to teach them how to do so.
  • “And third, when students learn to control themselves and make responsible choices, the adults in their lives won’t feel the need control them through aversive practices like seclusion rooms and physical restraint.”

Centennial School has won accolades for its adherence to Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports Techniques. Most recently, representatives of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights visited the school to observe best practices for dealing with students with behavior problems. School officials were told the visit could help inform federal policy on the use of restraint and seclusion.

Professor Emeritus Robert L. Leight, who was instrumental in producing COE’s anniversary book, gave an overview of COE’s history from startup to present day, and he talked about the leaders who helped shape the College, including John A. Stoops, the College’s first dean and founder of Centennial School. He also talked about COE’s accomplishments.

“In 2001, Lehigh was named by U.S. News and World Report to the top 50 graduate colleges of education and has been consistently recognized ever since then,” he said. “Centers have been established to disseminate research, among them the Center for Promoting Research to Practice, Center for Urban Leadership and the program supporting youth and adults with developmental disabilities.”

Leight also pointed out that COE has been international in scope, with students from around the globe pursuing doctoral degrees here.

Recognizing excellence

Also at the anniversary celebration, COE recognized the contributions of Shapiro, who died in March, to the field of education. In addition to the Distinguished Educator Award, he was the recipient of the Perry A. Zirkel Award for Distinguished Teaching in Education, which recognizes a faculty member who has a national or international reputation as a respected scholar and who is respected by students and colleagues for rigor in teaching.

Shapiro’s son, Dan, who accepted the awards, said his father learned of both awards before he died.

Also at the COE celebration, doctoral student David J. Fine received the Percy Hughes Award for Scholarship, Humanity and Social Change.

Fine is completing his doctorate in English at Lehigh, and he will be taking a faculty position at the University of Dayton. His dissertation explores the relationship between secularization and ethics in the mid-20th-century British novel. During his doctoral program, Fine served as the assistant director of the Global Citizenship program, which seeks to challenge students from many disciplinary backgrounds to envision and then live their civic identity.