HACKETTSTOWN, NJ (Warren County) – Jenn Valenti of Mount Arlington, NJ, is a dedicated educator for whom learning motivates even more learning. After teaching third grade general education for almost 21 years, she has now stepped into the role of Learning Disability Teacher Consultant (LDT-C), thanks to a fast-track program first offered by Centenary University in January 2020.
The LDT-C acts as liaison between parents, teachers, administration, and students. In her new job, Valenti will conduct testing and develop Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs) and support strategies for teachers to support students in working toward their full potential.
Valenti said she was inspired to become a LDT-C while she was studying for a Master’s Degree in Special Education with Teacher of Student with Disabilities (TOSD) certification at Centenary. But at the time, the University did not offer that certification.
When Centenary introduced its LDT-C program in January 2020, Valenti said, “I jumped on it.” The nine-course, 27-credit sequence of courses is designed to provide the skills needed to diagnose and correct learning disabilities and culminates in a 100-hour practicum. However, because of Covid-19 and the shift to virtual classrooms, Valenti said she was able to get even more experience working with a child study team in her own school district in Dover, N.J. “After I graduated, I stayed on, so I got over 160 hours in. It was a great experience,” she said.
Valenti, who had completed her undergraduate studies at Drew and William Paterson universities, knew that because of the classes she had already taken for her TOSD, she only needed to take four more classes to complete the LDT-C. But in addition to teaching, doing behavior therapy on the side, and caring for her own family, Valenti volunteers for Inheritance of Hope, a foundation which helps young families facing the loss of a parent.
“I was really nervous that I couldn’t fit anything more on my plate. But I desperately wanted this. Centenary made it so accessible,” she said. The University “went above and beyond,” allowing her to do an independent study so she could complete the program and begin working as an LDT-C the very next fall.
Valenti said she started the program with a cohort of five students who were taking the same classes. “There was real camaraderie,” she said, adding that Professor Gulay Maffia, Ed.D., LDT-C, was instrumental in helping the cohort, all adult learners. “We were stressed out. We were all moms and teachers, and we were scared to go back to school. But Dr. Maffia was in our corner from the get-go,” Valenti said. “She was our cheerleader, and she created practical, hands-on lessons.” The students engaged in virtual case study meetings, during which they wrote and shared reports and presented them in role-playing exercises. “It was a great way to learn,” Valenti said.
Although Centenary made it accessible, Valenti said, the coursework was intense and the material rigorous. The support of faculty and the camaraderie with her fellow students were instrumental in getting through it.
Dr. Maffia explained, “Centenary University’s LDT-C program focuses on the specific training needs of future LDT-Cs. The progression of engaging coursework complements the shift from education through the lens of an educator to that of a practitioner.” Establishing the techniques for that shift in perspective make the collaboration among classmates in the program and experienced professors essential, she added. Dr. Maffia, who received her Ed.D. through Centenary’s Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership program, is herself a practicing LDT-C.
Valenti said, “Dr. Maffia made herself accessible. She wasn’t just available during class hours. I still text her now.” In addition, she said, “Dr. Maffia gave practical tips from her experience working in the field. It wasn’t just theoretical.” Valenti feels Dr. Maffia helped her become “beyond prepared.”
Cathleen M. Benedict, Ed.D., Assistant Professor of Education and Director of Centenary’s Graduate Programs in Special Education, said that the University’s LDT-C program offers the opportunity for educators to take a leadership role and make an impact on student learning, teacher practice, and the home/school connection. “Our graduate students gain both the knowledge and experience needed to make positive impacts for K-12 students who may be recipients of services in special education. As with any of our graduate programs in special education, our professors are experts who understand how to teach the aspects of educational theory as functional practices. Our students receive a practical education, and the LDT-C program is our latest pathway for our numerous K-12 graduate students to make a difference,” she said.
Valenti said Dr. Maffia encouraged her and her cohort to further their skills by obtaining a National Certification for Educational Diagnosticians (NCED) credential. Valenti said that her future may include embarking on the major undertaking of a NCED, with the help of Dr. Maffia, and perhaps even continue on to a Centenary doctorate, because, she said, “I love going to school and learning.”
After she received her certification, Valenti immediately began to look for a position—and continued to receive support from Centenary in networking and job search. After learning of an opening in the Hopatcong school district, she received guidance from Timothy Frederiks, Ed.D., Chair of the Education and Mathematics Department and Graduate Program Director for the Education Program at Centenary. And, Valenti said, Dr. Maffia continued to help her as she applied for jobs. “She made sure I was prepared.”
Even while she is working her new position as an LDT-C, Valenti will teach third grade through the end of 2020. She said she feels well equipped for that role because she just came out of the virtual classroom herself.