SOE News

Reaching out in a wider way: The Pittleman Fellowship funds special education research and study

Photo of Jimmy and Susan Pittleman

Jimmy and Susan Pittleman

Long-time friends of the School of Education Jimmy and Susan Pittleman of McLean, Virginia, have seen their gift to Carolina expand far beyond campus boundaries during this academic year. Pittleman (B.S. in Business Administration, ’62) and his wife, Susan, established the James B. and Susan H. Pittleman Fellowship, awarded to a graduate student pursuing study and research in the field of special education.

The Pittlemans were motivated by their own family’s experience with the challenges of educating a child with learning differences. “Although many public schools now have much greater resources than when our own child was in school, families still face many challenges,” Susan Pittleman says. “Our major emphasis in making this gift is that no one should have to fight for information or for advocacy for a learning-differenced child. It’s important that all children be provided with the resources they need to be able to maximize their potential.”

Jimmy Pittleman explains that he and his wife wanted to “leverage their gift” to the School of Education. “We really wanted to fund a person who would be able to teach others about learning differences through the use of technology or seminars or other means,” he says. “By using technology and online learning, one person can create something that can reach many more people in a wider way and over a longer time.”

Kris Zorigian, the 2009-2010 recipient of the Pittleman Fellowship, spent this year working with Dr. David Walbert, editorial and Web director of the School’s LEARN NC program, to develop more resources related to learning differences. LEARN NC, an online resource, works to improve instruction and offer professional development for K-12 educators across North Carolina and beyond. Though many of the website’s resources are linked to the North Carolina Standard Course of Study, LEARN NC’s resources are valuable to teachers, parents and students throughout the country and around the globe.

“The site receives about 30,000 visitors each day,” Walbert says. “We have visitors from all over the world.”

Zorigian developed and maintains a blog on LEARN NC dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of learning differences and the online dissemination of information and research to assist classroom teachers and their students with these issues.

The interactive blog often takes a “fact versus fiction” approach to its subjects, presenting the conventional wisdom regarding an issue in special education, then offering current research to dissect the truth that it may – or may not – contain. Zorigian’s blog postings this year have discussed a wide range of subjects, including evidence-based reading interventions, positive behavior supports (PBS), social skills, and whether gender plays a role in the occurrence and diagnosis of learning differences and disabilities.

“Each post is different,” Zorigian says. “I often get comments or e-mails on what I post, so we are constantly building on the information that we’re providing. As someone who has dealt with learning disabilities myself – my own, and as a teacher before I came back to grad school – I try to make the research more easily understandable from a practical standpoint.”

The blog offers real answers to those seeking more information on learning differences. “On the LEARN NC site, we have lesson plans with specific modifications for students, we have online continuing education units to assist teachers in differentiating learning instruction for their students, and other resources,” Walbert says. “The bulk of our visitors are teachers and students, and we try to offer real support and assistance.”

Melissa Miller, assistant professor of special education and director of the special education curriculum, says, “The area of special education is a priority for us here at the School because it’s been identified as a priority of the State of North Carolina. The most common disability category within our schools, both in inclusive and special education classrooms, is learning differences. I teach both new teachers-in-training in the undergraduate program and lateral entry teachers who are coming back to school for a master’s degree. We want to prepare all our teachers for meeting the needs of students with learning differences across the state.”

Jimmy and Susan Pittleman are true believers in the efficacy of the new technologies that have emerged in the last two decades to help students with learning differences succeed in the classroom and in life. “It’s wonderful that the advances in technology are being utilized in such a way as to really help students with visual and motor integration and other issues, as well as helping those who teach them,” Susan Pittleman says.

“Through the work of the School of Education, we feel like there is a higher professional source that is advocating for children with learning differences,” she continues. “We want to help provide resources that are available to everyone, so that parents, teachers and children dealing with learning differences can all be more successful.”