2019 News Stories

Exceptional Student Education majors lead their own classrooms during Pepin Summer Institute

by Chelsea Grosbeck

TAMPA, Fla. (July 16, 2019) — For five weeks this summer, USF students in the College of Education’s Exceptional Student Education program created lesson plans and led their own classrooms as part of the Pepin Summer Institute, an annual summer program that gives USF students hands-on teaching experience while providing students at Pepin Academies an opportunity to continue learning outside of the regular school year.

Now in its eighth year, the Pepin Summer Institute provides an opportunity for Exceptional Student Education majors to curate their own curriculum and practice their skills in meeting the individual needs of students with exceptionalities. Under the mentorship of USF faculty, student teachers get to know their classes and pinpoint each student’s range of learning needs for targeted instruction, says Betsy Doone, PhD, an instructor and the coordinator for the Pepin Summer Institute.

“This an opportunity for (Pepin Academies’) students to come to school and not lose the ground they’ve made during the school year during a long summer break,” Doone said. “(For USF) students, it’s an opportunity for them to come to school and practice all the things they don’t get in a typical internship.”

Pepin Academies is a not-for-profit, tuition-free, public charter school that serves students with specific learning related disabilities. The school serves students throughout its three campuses in both Hillsborough County and Pasco County, with the Summer Institute taking place on the school’s Tampa campus.

“It's really the first time we are on our own, so hands-on,” said Ashley Levine, a rising senior majoring in Exceptional Student Education. “Planning curriculum and interacting with students is such a good opportunity to get our feet wet with teaching. It’s our time to try new things and get feedback and practice everything we’ve been learning in our courses.” 

The Pepin Summer Institute fills a need for the students at the school. Many of the students at Pepin perform best while practicing a regular routine, and the familiarity of continuing to attend school even during the summer months can help boost student well-being.

Monika Perez, Principal of Pepin Academies Tampa campus, said many of the students have restrictions in continuing their learning throughout the summer months, and the Pepin Summer Institute serves as a way for them to do so. 

“A lot of students struggle over the summer and a lot of parents don’t have the means to provide entertaining learning opportunities for their children,” Perez said. “We aim to bridge that gap to lead each student from one year to the next. USF has helped us with that and provided opportunities for parents and students.” 

To continue keeping Pepin students in their normal routine, the Summer Institute also offers extracurricular activities, such as adaptive physical education and arts and music programs.

During recess each day, USF students learned from faculty in USF’s Physical Education Program about teaching students with behavioral or physical limitations by working with the students at Pepin. The experience served as part of a new adaptive physical education course created by Associate Professor Sara Flory, PhD. Flory said the addition of this portion of the summer program aims to fit students with varying needs and abilities.

“I haven’t had any previous experience working with adaptive physical education before this,” said Reagan Etherton, a rising senior majoring in Physical Education. “Now, I feel a lot more prepared to serve students in any condition.”

Another element to the Summer Institute’s program offerings is the incorporation of arts and music curriculum provided by Arts4All Florida, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing arts education to individuals with disabilities across Florida.

For the past three years, Arts4All Florida’s involvement with the Summer Institute has positively impacted student performance during the summer and throughout the school year, said Jeff Skowronek, executive director of Pepin Academies. 

“It ensures a continuation of enrichment in education,” Skowronek said. “Our students continue to learn, experience new things, especially arts related, that they might have not had the chance. They continue to grow and prepare for the next academic year.” 

The creative breaks offered through the art and music classes provide a therapeutic way to help students’ social, emotional and physical awareness skills, says Jennifer Rosoff, an Arts4All dance instructor and a fourth grade teacher at Pepin Academies’ New Port Richey campus. 

“If they aren’t comfortable communicating, they can dance. They don’t have to talk,” Rosoff said. “Opening people up through the arts has students keep an open mind.” 

While the Summer Institute only lasts for five weeks of the summer semester, it serves as one of the first opportunities for many USF education majors to step into the classroom and lead their own instruction. Getting this type of experience early on can be invaluable to building their skillset for future courses.

For Levine, the takeaway from this experience was not only realizing her contributions to creating learning successes for the students she worked with at Pepin. The experience also helped her discover her potential as a teacher.  

“To see your students engage in the lessons you worked so hard to plan and seeing them enjoy themselves and have a good time doing it, makes all the planning and behind-the-scenes work worth it,” Levine said. “Seeing them being able to use their interests to ignite their learning is very rewarding.”