Author Archives: Woody

Jessica Raugitinane Meets the Challenge of Teaching Remotely

Covid-19 has turned teaching upside down.

But Jessica Raugitinane, who is teaching her fourth-graders remotely, has found a way to create a familiar, positive classroom culture despite the distance.

We honored Ms. Raugitinane in 2012 when she was an undergraduate at UConn’s Neag School of Education. She earned her master’s degree in 2014 and has been teaching dual-language English and social studies at Mount Vernon Community School in Alexandria, Va., for several years.

She also trains teachers in her school district in strategies from Project GLAD® (Guided Language Acquisition Design), which promotes English language learning and high academic achievement in a positive classroom culture.

Converting to Remote Learning

Educators have recognized that implementing remote learning requires much more than just placing a computer in front of the teacher.

When the pandemic forced the Alexandria schools to convert to remote learning, Ms. Raugitinane realized she would have to make significant changes. She was determined to ensure that her students would still receive the education they need and deserve. She committed to continue using her successful best practices while adapting them to the virtual world.

“When my school shut down, I had to learn how to command an in-person job through a computer screen,” she said. “Fortunately, my school helped me discover the RULER approach developed at Yale and Larry Ferlazzo’s Seven Tips for Remote Teaching.

“Combined, these techniques solidified my decision to focus on the social emotional needs of my students before diving into academic content. However, applying Project GLAD® strategies enabled me to address my students’ social emotional needs while continuing to develop their language learning.”

Quite a bit of preparation was required. Ms. Raugitinane completed the RULER online training in four hours, then devoted her spring break (10 eight-hour days) to creating the 10-lesson mini-unit plan using the interactive Nearpod website. This included creating the lessons on Google Slides first and then making them interactive with Nearpod.

“I was motivated to invest the time in creating this 10-lesson mini-unit plan so that I would have a reusable template for plugging in future content,” she said. “Later I plugged in the Social Studies content to teach about Jim Crow Laws and segregation. That 10-lesson mini unit plan took me four days, compared to the original 10 days for the first unit plan.

“I wanted to make sure I was applying my knowledge of Project GLAD® strategies and Nearpod to make an interactive, language-rich academic environment, while creating a routine for myself and my students.”

Sharing Her Experience

She recently shared her experience in distance learning in an article in Soleado, a publication of Dual Language Education of New Mexico.

The article provides a wealth of techniques and strategies that will be useful to teachers intent on meeting the needs of their students during this stressful and demanding time. Read the full article.

As she wrote in the article:

“With the global pandemic taking us all on an emotional roller coaster, helping my students navigate their own emotions within this new quarantined world became paramount.

“Fortunately, at the start of the closure, I learned about RULER, an evidence-based, systemic approach to social-emotional learning developed at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (www.ycei.org/ruler).

“RULER stands for the five skills of emotional intelligence: recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing and regulating. The RULER online training taught the importance of developing students’ emotional literacy. Essentially, providing students with the language of emotions enables them to better identify and express their feelings.

“I also learned the value of asking students the simple question: ‘How are you feeling?’ before beginning a lesson as a way to regulate emotion and encourage more on-task behavior. Undoubtedly, helping students understand and express their emotions during these uncertain times became the heart of my remote teaching.”

Additional Lessons

Among the other lessons she learned in preparing to teach remotely:

  • Establishing an equitable and accessible routine provided much-needed consistency for my students and myself.
  • Three tips from Larry Ferlazzo’s Seven Tips for Remote Teaching are essential: 1) emphasize social-emotional learning; 2) minimize synchronous online meetings: 3) keep things simple.
  • Both RULER and Ferlazzo’s advice prioritize social-emotional connections as a necessary ingredient to academic success, especially during distance learning.
  • Ferlazzo’s advice further encouraged me to deliver learning both synchronously and asynchronously in order to provide equity of access to students. And to keep things simple, I focused on teaching a unit’s main concepts rather than attempting to cover a myriad of information.

Congratulations to Jessica Raugitinane for rising to the challenge of remote learning, cultivating new knowledge and skills, and sharing her learnings with fellow professionals who are facing the same daunting challenge.

  • Woody Exley

Alma Exley Scholar Growing as a Leader in Meriden

Orlando Valentin Jr., whom we honored in 2016, has emerged as a leader in educational equity issues in the Meriden public schools.

He has been teaching fourth grade at Casimir Pulaski School in his hometown of Meriden since earning his master’s degree from UConn. He is in his second and final year in the UConn Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP). I expect we will see Mr. Valentin go on to a distinguished career as an educational leader in the not-too-distant future.

Mr. Valentin sends a heartfelt message to the students he hasn’t seen in-person in months.

In the past two years he has received about $5,000 in grant funds from an alliance of Regional Education Service Centers (RESCs) to enable him to focus on the recruitment and retention of teachers of color in Meriden. He has used these funds to set up an affinity group for educational professionals of color in the central Connecticut community.

“The affinity group gives the professionals the opportunity to network with their colleagues of color who likely have shared life experiences,” he said. “The group also has had various professional development opportunities such as a book study, attending a conference and training with an equity consultant.

“The program also enables them to take the DISC leadership assessment. This allows them to evaluate their leadership potential and create a roadmap for professional development.” (The DISC tool evaluates behavior in terms of Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness.)

Team of Equity Leaders

Mr. Valentin is entering his second year as one of 12 equity leaders in the district. These leaders train with an external consultant, Dr. David Cormier, and deliver turnkey modules to their colleagues which focus specifically on racial equity. Dr. Cormier, Mr. Valentin and two other equity leaders delivered a 75-minute presentation in August to Meriden’s cohort of new hires for 2020. 

He is active in the community as well. He has been coaching youth football teams since he was fresh out of UConn, and is entering his fourth year as head coach of the Meriden Raiders. He began as an assistant coach, then became a head coach and has led the same group of athletes in successive years as they have moved up to higher levels of competition.

A football player holding a bat on a baseball field

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Coach Valentin giving a pep-talk to his team (prior to Covid-19).

Mr. Valentin said he is grateful to the scholarship program and its supporters who have helped him to launch his career in education.

“Thank you for putting this scholarship together and creating a network of professionals of color here in Connecticut,” he said. “Thank you for the scholarship opportunity which I and many others have benefited from.”

Our selection committee really knows how to pick ‘em. We’re delighted to see Mr. Valentin advancing in his career, taking on greater responsibility and making a difference in his hometown. He is one of many illustrious Alma Exley Scholars who are having an impact in Connecticut and across the country.

  • Woody Exley

Sacha Kelly Lends Her Talent to Black Lives Matter Murals

Sacha Kelly, whom we honored in 2009, has joined with other artists to paint Black Lives Matter murals on Trinity Street in Hartford and at Town Hall in Bloomfield.


Sacha Kelly

The Hartford resident is a mathematics teacher at the Academy of Science and Innovation, a magnet school in New Britain run by the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC).


Black Lives Matter mural at Bloomfield Town Hall

“If all lives truly did matter,” she told the Courant, “we wouldn’t need the movement because we wouldn’t be attacked with policies, practices and policing. This message needs to be put out so those who are in support can see it and those that are not can see this is the time, we matter, and the movement is not going away.”

Her husband, Khaiim, the rapper known as Self Suffice, also participated in the projects. He told the Courant, “All of these artists are people who work on their craft, but they’re also a teacher, a social worker, in some way a guest artist in our schools. don’t know any one of them who doesn’t work with youth.”

Sacha Kelly’s letter in Bloomfield mural

At the Hartford mural’s unveiling, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said, “It’s a beautiful thing to see artists coming from across our state to create this mural. The words are powerful and right, and the mosaic style is beautiful. We’re proud to partner with the community to make this happen.”


Sacha Kelly, in white dress, with her husband, Khaiim, with artists in Hartford and Mayor Luke Bronin, far right.

Congratulations to Sacha Kelly for lending her talents to this civic work of art which conveys a significant and heartfelt message.

Aerial view of Black Lives Matter mural on Trinity Street, Hartford, near Bushnell Park
  •  Woody Exley