Centennial School helps interns translate theory to practice and become better teachers

Thursday, May 9, 2024 - 10:00am

Among the students happily throwing their mortarboards in the air at May’s commencement ceremony will be College of Education (COE) graduate students Lauren Kovacs and Jenele Vadelund. The pair will receive their master's degrees in Special Education. Both women currently work at the Centennial School where they are mentored by more seasoned educators. As teacher interns, they are able to apply their graduate coursework to the challenges facing today's students.

Kovacs and Vadelund both came to the COE with bachelor degrees from neighboring institutions. They saw the Centennial School as an opportunity to gain valuable experience before taking on a class of their own, while receiving support and mentorship from more seasoned professionals. 

“As I was applying for teaching jobs after receiving my undergraduate degree, I wasn’t really feeling overly prepared to step foot into a classroom—to write IEPs and all the other tasks that new teachers are just given and not really fully taught how to do,” says Kovacs. “But when I was introduced to Centennial through a friend, I saw the opportunity to practice all these skills while also working towards my master’s degree—I knew it would be an amazing opportunity.”

For Vadelund, the positive culture sets the Centennial School apart. “When you walk into the school, the positivity is immediate—you can feel that energy.” A consistent approach followed by all Centennial staff also sets the school apart. “We're all on the same page in respect to our students’ goals, the language that we're using, academics—and the students see that.”

Parent involvement plays a key role in working toward Centennial students’ success. Vadelund says, “We talk to the parents at least once a week, if not more, and that goes a long way toward having parents on board with the work we do with their kids.” 

It’s not surprising that both Kovacs and Vadelund heard about the school from their friends and colleagues. The highly-acclaimed and nationally-recognized lab school educates elementary through high school students with challenging behaviors. Centennial also prepares special education teachers to work with students with emotional and behavioral needs and autism spectrum disorder. 

Graduate students maintain a rigorous schedule, working full time as supervised teacher interns while completing their master’s degrees and/or certification. At Centennial, these graduate students are able to apply the evidence-based practices taught in their coursework such as positive behavior support strategies and data-based instruction. They also have the opportunity to incorporate new technology into their learning strategies such as Centennial’s immersive learning center. Teacher interns also benefit from weekly, on-site workshops led by staff experts or outside professional consultants.

The school bridges the gap between theory and practice, contributing to the overall training of graduate students in Special Education while providing Centennial students with a quality education rooted in best practices and tailored to their needs. As Centennial Director Julie Fogt says, “This is the big ‘why’ of the COE’s work.”

As Kovacs and Vadelund explore next steps in their careers, they reflect on how Centennial has helped in their preparation. “I feel like everyone needs to experience a place like this during their lives,” says Vadelund. “Centennial really emphasizes the fact that ‘nice matters’ and I 100% agree.” That supportive environment benefits everyone and is foundational to the school’s success. Kovacs agrees. “Parents share with us how Centennial has changed their students’ lives—the school has changed our lives, too.”

Visit the Centennial School website to learn more about the school and the College of Education website to learn more about the master’s program in Special Education.

Field of Expertise: 
Special Education