By Jennie Kroeger | March 30, 2017 | Posted in: COE Spotlights
Major: , . Visual Disabilities (M.S. ’01)
Hometown: Pilesgrove, NJ
What is your current job title? What does the position entail?
I actually have three different job titles at the moment: Satellite Program Coordinator, FSU Satellite Program in Visual Disabilities; Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments, Florida Instructional Materials Center for the Visually Impaired (FIMC-VI); and Transition Coordinator, Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind Transition Program.
FSU’s Visual Disabilities Satellite Program is located at the University Partnership Center on the Seminole campus of St. Petersburg College. Teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs) are part of a state and national critical teacher shortage. Florida is fortunate to offer this satellite program for students who cannot relocate to Tallahassee. I am responsible for advertising the program and recruiting new students, advising current students, teaching courses, working with adjunct instructors, and collaborating with the University Partnership Center to manage the program.
FIMC-VI is a statewide resource center that provides specialized materials, support, trainings, and workshops to students, families, teachers, schools, and administrators throughout the state. My part-time position is to plan and administer the Florida Cane Quest and four regional competitions of the Florida Braille Challenge for students, their families, teachers, paraprofessionals, and administrators. Additionally, I provide workshops in adapted physical fitness activities for students who are blind and visually impaired, such as goalball.
The Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind Transition Program consists of year-round and summer services for students aged 14-22 who are blind or visually impaired. It is a school-to-work program to prepare students for life after high school. As coordinator, I plan instruction in the areas of career exploration, job readiness, work-based learning experiences, daily living skills, self-determination, and orientation and mobility. I also manage student enrollment, coordinate transportation services for the students, communicate with families, and collaborate with our Transition teachers to provide instruction to meet the unique needs of our population.
What is your favorite memory from your time as an FSU COE student?
The relationships built and the camaraderie between professors, graduate assistants, and fellow students is the most outstanding memory for me. From my first visit to the COE when I was still deciding on my major, I felt welcomed and at home within minutes. Students I met were friendly and excited about the program. As expected, those inviting personalities were present once I started my coursework. We were all on a journey to enter a career that was not very well known, highly specialized, and that served a unique population of children. There was an understanding that we were doing something that many others did not know about or understand. We had a common bond and understanding from the beginning.
What do you love about the FSU COE? Why did you choose the FSU COE?
During my undergraduate coursework in Elementary Education at Indiana University, I met Michael Bina, a professional in the field of visual impairment who was instrumental in my decision to become a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI). Dr. Bina introduced me to several university training programs in the country that prepared TVIs. I received information packets from all of those institutions, but the one that really stood out was FSU. It contained a handwritten note card from Dr. Sandy Lewis, Professor and Coordinator of the program. I took the personalized note and message as a reflection of the program itself ‘ warm, inviting, sincerely concerned about the individual, and one that goes above and beyond in the education of future teachers. I was correct in my assumption on all accounts! I was confident I had found the right place.
What advice do you have for future FSU COE students?
For future FSU COE students, my advice is to make the most of the time you have in your program of choice. Any experience, whether it is education, training, a part-time job, or a full-time career, is what we make it. We can choose to merely get by and graduate, or we can choose to embrace opportunities and challenges and grow into someone we didn’t know we could become.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments (personally and/or professionally)?
Many of the events that I count as my greatest accomplishments as a teacher happen outside of classroom walls, just like where most of life happens. I feel honored and privileged to have a career that can contribute to so much student learning and growth and work alongside dedicated, hardworking professionals.
My entire career with FIMC-VI is an incredible accomplishment to me, as it started with a specific purpose and has grown into providing programs and services to children and their families all over the state. In 2008, I planned and implemented the first regional Florida Braille Challenge competition in Tampa, FL. The Braille Challenge is a national program of Braille Institute of America that was created to motivate young braille readers, recognize them for their hard work and accomplishments, and promote braille literacy. Within a few years, the number of students we reached more than tripled! Organizations contacted me to make donations, and teachers shared stories about how their students, who normally did not want to read or practice braille, were almost demanding that they practice because of the Florida Braille Challenge. Parents witnessed their children succeeding and told us how much they learned, how special it was to see their children being successful, and how grateful they were for the opportunities. Most recently, in South Florida, a parent said, You are our lifeline. Our sunshine. With the overwhelming support far and wide, the momentum continues!
Another accomplishment of my career is starting a grassroots goalball movement around the state. Goalball is a sport that was created for veterans who returned blinded or visually impaired from World War II. It was introduced as a paralympic sport in 1976 and is traditionally offered for school-aged students at residential schools for the blind around the country. Since becoming a TVI in 2001, one thing that has always bothered me was the lack of access to sports and physical fitness activities for students who are blind or visually impaired.
In 2014, I collaborated with the United States Association of Blind Athletes to obtain training and equipment to start our own Tampa Lighthouse goalball team. Our teachers learned alongside our students and we brought in community support as much as possible. Within the next year, Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind, FIMC-VI, and coaches from the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind teamed up and began training teachers and volunteers who wanted to learn. Teams and organized practices are continuing to pop up around the state. One school district has even designated a gymnasium for their goalball teams to hold consistent practices. Time and effort to start, implement, and maintain programs such as these by teachers, families, and students was tremendous, but the payoff will last a lifetime.
What is something interesting that not many people know about you?
It is no secret that I spend the majority of my time working my various jobs, very often 6-7 days per week. In my free time, which is typically after 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., I train for one of my other passions; I am a competitive stair climber! I participate in competitive stair climb races around the country with my team, West Coast Labels. The sport has been nicknamed, The hardest sport you’ve never heard of! I started by participating in local Florida races that benefited the American Lung Association and have climbed the Bank of America buildings in Tampa and Jacksonville, both about 42 floors. I then branched out during travels for work or vacation and met an entire network of stair climbers from around the country. More well-known buildings that I have climbed outside Florida include the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower), the Empire State Building, and One World Trade Center. I finished the 2016 season nationally ranked as the 6th overall female by Towerrunning USA. The step-family, as we refer to ourselves, that I have met throughout the years reminds me of the comradery and relationships I have built in my professional career as a TVI. We all belong to a very small organization, it is not very well known, we are passionate about what we do, and are highly dedicated. I have even climbed with teens in the Lighthouse Transition Program in several Tampa races and up the Willis Tower with a friend who is blind. It is a great sport for individuals who are visually impaired!
Anything else you’d like to add?
One of the most common questions children are asked while growing up is, What do you want to be when you grow up? For years, I answered, a teacher, but by the time I reached high school, I truly had no idea what I wanted to do. Within the first year of my undergraduate degree, I had the realization that I did in fact want to be a teacher, but I did not understand what kind of teacher until I came to FSU. I did not know what I was capable of, the passion that was within me, or the extent to which I wanted to make a difference in our world. The people, experiences, education, and commitment that I gained from my time at FSU have led me to not only a fulfilling, passionate career, but also a lifestyle that is just as fulfilling and passionate – one that makes me immensely proud.