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NewsAug 4, 2021

Creating more inclusive learning environments

Lesley professors Louise Michelle Vital and Amy Gooden lead remote workshops for Caribbean educators to aid neurodiverse learners

Above: Assistant Professor Louise Michelle Vital and Andrew Sharpe, founder of the Boston-based Authentic Caribbean Foundation, are interviewed on the Jamaican talk show "Smile Jamaica" about the workshops Vital and Associate Professor Amy Gooden are conducting in five Caribbean nations, including Jamaica, this summer. (Courtesy of Television Jamaica Ltd.)

Many neurodiverse learners — such as those who are on the autism spectrum or diagnosed with dyslexia, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder — are overlooked or otherwise underserved in school systems in the United States and across the globe.

Lesley professors Dr. Louise Michelle Vital and Dr. Amy Gooden have worked with hundreds of educators in the Caribbean this summer to create and support inclusive classrooms for neurodiverse students through a series of five virtual, weeklong workshops.

Via our Institute for English Language Programs Beyond Borders, co-directed by Vital and Gooden, the directors are remotely leading training programs for 100 teachers in each of five Caribbean islands. After kicking off the sessions in Saint Lucia, the professors began leading workshops for educators in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Jamaica, and the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis.

The workshops include case studies, guest lecturers and interaction with experts from the Greater Boston area who share their experiences about implementing and supporting inclusive practices in schools and communities.

faculty Louise Michelle Vital
Dr. Louise Michelle Vital

To prepare, Vital and Gooden met virtually with government officials from each of the respective countries to learn how they could best structure the program to fit the needs of educators, students and their families.

Vital’s expertise arises, in part, from her experiences in Haiti, her parents’ native country,  as well as her academic training in higher education administration, international development, and specialization in Latin America and the Caribbean. The summer training stems from her previous collaboration with the Authentic Caribbean Foundation (ACF), a Boston-based nonprofit “committed to transforming the lives of Caribbean children and their caregivers — impacted by disabilities and HIV/AIDS — through providing health and educational support.”

“We’re committed to cultivating authentic and culturally relevant professional development training for K-12 teachers and educational leaders in the Caribbean region,” says Gooden, an associate professor who specializes in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), Bilingual Education, and Intercultural Education. She and Vital, an assistant professor of International Higher Education, emphasize that the training isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching but rather respects the individual, cultural differences of the participants.

Furthermore, says Vital, “We envision a transnational partnership mindset between all entities involved.”

Dr. Amy Gooden

In a press release, Saint Lucia’s Ambassador to the United States Anton Edmunds said, “We are very grateful to Lesley University and the Authentic Caribbean Foundation for agreeing to launch this initiative in Saint Lucia.”

The teaching methods and lessons learned in the Caribbean workshops can easily translate to classrooms in the United States, where the need for inclusive education models is also great, Vital explains.

“Everyone needs this training,” she says, pointing to classroom diversity, both obvious — gaps in dropout rates, inequitable access to computers and WIFI, language differences — and hidden, even among students of the same race and economic background who have varying learning styles, reading proficiency levels or disabilities that might not be obvious.

“There is diversity in what appears to be homogenous populations,” Vital says.

Vital and Gooden’s previous work with the institute includes teaching an English for Academic Purposes  graduate course in collaboration with L’Institut des Sciences, des Technologies et des Etudes Avancees d’Haiti (ISTEAH) and teaching an English for Education and Empowerment: Multilingual Parent Advocacy Certificate course for Haitian immigrants in collaboration with The Lesley-Brockton School and Community Engagement Project.