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 SRU elementary education's Bernice Brown plans 'Capstone' 




April 2, 2009

Contact: K.E. Schwab  



SRU elementary education's Bernice Brown plans 'Capstone'


SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - For Bernice Brown, retiring associate professor of elementary education and early childhood at Slippery Rock University, her 31 years in the classroom were just the preliminary work in preparation for her serious study during her retirement.

            Brown retires this summer. She will deliver her "Capstone Lecture" at 3 p.m. April 20 in North Hall. The lecture will be followed by a reception. Her topic will be "Literacy, Travel and Cultural Understanding: Lessons Learned."

            Asked to recount the biggest change during her SRU career, Brown said, "Me. I have changed the most."

            Brown started in the University's Act 101 program as a reading specialist working with students in need of remedial work and improved study skills. Simultaneously, she worked toward her doctorate in reading education at the University of Pittsburgh. "When the College of Education expanded, I was able to use my doctoral work in diversity and literature in the education curriculum, so I moved to the college."

            "I was the only African American on the education college's faculty. To some extent, I felt alone, but I also had the support of many fellow faculty, including Dr. Mary Agnes McKay." McKay was then chair of the elementary education department. "Dr. McKay was one of several faculty at the time who were very encouraging and supportive," Brown said.

            In addition to teaching all aspects of elementary education, Brown has remained focused on reading and children's literature from multiple perspectives. "It is still my passion," she said. On the advice of colleagues and the latest recommendations in the field, she returned to the elementary school classroom in spring of 1997 to both sharpen her elementary-level teaching skills and get a feel for what today's teachers face in the modern classroom. "I taught a full semester in a third grade class for the Pittsburgh Schools," she said, calling it a "very worthwhile - and eye opening - learning experience. It is an experience I would recommend to everyone teaching in the College of Education. It was also very helpful in teaching my college-age students because I had actually had the experience."

            A recent sabbatical led her to examine the education system in war-torn Kosovo. "It was both educational and informative in that it allowed me to see the workings of a different culture," she said.

            Her view of students enrolling at SRU has also evolved she said. "Today's students are much better prepared, and they are more savvy. The 'millennium student' has more parental involvement than those who came here in the 1980s. When they graduate, schools districts expect them to be better prepared and ready to teach. Today's graduates have to be able to prepare meaningful lesson plans, be prepared with basic skills and be able to follow through," she said.

            Other changes she has seen are those in which her college has switched to more team-oriented camaraderie. "We see literacy teams, diversity teams and math science groups within the college," she said. "I also think the faculty are more mentoring in their approach both to fellow faculty and to students. That is particularly true and visible in the joint research projects between faculty and students."

            As for her actual retirement plans, Brown said she will take some time off, then get back into research. "I'm very interested in how things were before the slave trade and have already done some work in looking at the accomplishments of black pharaohs in Ancient Egypt. I'd like to set up a Web site offering diversity lesson plans, and I'd like to go back to Kosovo to study its early childhood education methods, its women's issues and its issues in human trafficking - many of the same issues faced in the U.S. I'd also like to visit England again both for research and to better understand its cultures," she said. 

            Brown has already examined the cultures of some 14 Western European countries. "I'd also like to go back and take some courses - I enjoy being in school - and I'd like to write."


Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.





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