In 2008, St. Joseph’s University (SJU) in Philadelphia embedded the Wilson Reading System® into its online graduate programs in special education. Over the past decade, many educators from Pennsylvania and beyond have selected this academic option to advance their professional goals.
SJU’s collaboration with Wilson was spearheaded by Cathy Spinelli, former chair of the university’s special education department. The university offers four distinct master’s degree options in special education that include WRS certification.
“Most of our graduate students are employed teachers,” explained Dr. Samuel B. Slike, director of the university’s Special Education Online Programs. “We’re making it possible for them to take online courses at home, anywhere in the country. That’s our world today—synchronized, real-time learning. I am totally convinced it’s our future.”
For New Jersey educator Stephanie Wilhelm, becoming WRS Certified was a milestone set among milestones. The goal was so important, in fact, that she achieved it while juggling her teaching career and planning her wedding.
“Being a reading specialist and educator in the 21st century, I hold high standards for students to become active members of an ever-changing global community,” she shared. “For me, being part of education is not about making a difference; it’s about helping others find out how they can make a positive difference for themselves, others, and the society in which we live.”
Stephanie is an RTI/Reading Specialist in the Southampton Township School District in Burlington County, NJ, which serves 750 students in grades K-8. She’s also a Learning Therapist at Cooper University Hospital’s Learning Center.
“I believe in the importance of providing all students with access to and experience with a variety of quality resources and teaching,” she said. “The completion of the Wilson Reading System Certification program is a key component in the process of this vision, especially for struggling readers and students with language-based learning disabilities.”
Sarah Rhine, a fifth-grade English/language arts teacher with the Carlisle Area School District in Pennsylvania, said the SJU master’s degree program and WRS training expanded her understanding of the many components of reading instruction and best practices for implementation.
Two years into her teaching career, she noticed a pattern. “I repeatedly received students who could not read fluently and did not enjoy reading, or who could not decode. This fueled a passion to learn all that I could about reading, especially for those who struggled the most. I was not going to let these students keep slipping by just because I didn’t know what to do with them! I read up on reading disabilities, how children learn to read, and effective methods of instruction and remediation. I started my own literacy binder with articles on research and best practices. This led me to pursue my master’s degree in special education, join the International Dyslexia Association, and become certified in the Wilson Reading System.”
A marathon runner who volunteers as a coach for the nonprofit organization Girls on the Run, Sarah said she appreciated the convenience of the online format. “It was easy to connect with the professors and other students. It was very accommodating for a full-time teacher.”
For more information about SJU’s online special education programs with WRS certification, click here.
Pictured: Wilson Dyslexia Practitioners Sarah Rhine, left, of Pennsylvania, and Stephanie Wilhelm, right, of New Jersey, earned their master’s degree in special education and WRS Level I certification through St. Joseph’s University’s online graduate program.
(This article was originally published in the fall/winter issue of The Decoder).