Education students seek community — and answers

After the university announced accreditation for several School of Education programs had been revoked, students came together online to find answers.

Suzanne Snyder loves kids. Throughout her life, Snyder has worked with children in different capacities: theater, babysitting and now as an elementary education major.

Early childhood education major Jessica Lynn Beers joined an online group for School of Education students after some programs had their accreditation revoked. Photo by Chase Burnett.
Early childhood education major Jessica Lynn Beers joined an online group for School of Education students after some programs had their accreditation revoked. Photo by Chase Burnett.

This is Snyder’s last semester at UAA. She was excited to start her final internship because she is to be able to work hands-on with the students by taking over the class for six weeks of the semester.

On the weekend before the spring semester began, Snyder and other elementary education students received word that their program had its accreditation revoked by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

“I knew that everybody in the program has just experienced this huge blow,” Snyder said.

On Jan. 11, Snyder attended the first open forum on the accreditation revocation with dozens of other students. Everyone had questions but  Interim Director of the School of Education, Claudia Dybdahl, and Chancellor Cathy Sandeen did not have much information to relay. Later that day, Snyder created a Facebook group called UAA SOE Support Group.

“After that meeting [on Jan. 14], a lot of us were even more disheartened than when this whole thing started because UAA didn’t have any answers either,” Synder said. “I think getting as much information in one place as possible would help a lot of people, and I think that has started, but I am hoping to get more information to the group as I receive it. “

By the end of the first week of school, the SOE Support Group had over 100 members who crowd-sourced their questions to one another. The group has shared CAEP reports, notes from open forums, lawsuit options, transfer information and more.

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Arvinelle Grandia is a senior in the elementary education major. Grandia is doing an internship in Barrow, Alaska and she has to rely on emails and Facebook for information. As a distance student, Grandia has had to tune in remotely to the Blackboard Collaborate open forums.

“During the forum meeting, I think none of our questions online were answered because there was such an overflow of people with questions (naturally) that were able to attend face to face,” Grandia said.

Now a member of the SOE Support Group, Grandia has been able to stay connected from afar.

“I thought the SOE Support Group on Facebook was a great idea,” Grandia said. “It was a way to share news and pass on information to one another that some of us might not have been made aware of otherwise. It was also comforting to know that so many others were feeling the same exact way I did and that I wasn’t alone.”

Snyder said much of her program is based online, and so she did not have many close friendships in her program prior to the accreditation revocation.

“A lot of us have been talking the past couple days and panicking and wondering what we were going to do,” Snyder said. “I think that’s one positive part of this, I think even more friendships will be formed with having this shared experience.”

Graduating seniors experienced some relief when the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development stated spring 2019 and summer 2019 graduates will have their institutional recommendation for initial licensure recognized.

But students like Jessica Lynn Beers, early childhood education major, who were planning on graduating next fall are concerned they will not have their license recognized by the state.

“I don’t even want an unaccredited degree,” Beers said. “That’s not what I worked for even if the state says they’ll license.”

Beers became passionate for early childhood education after she began caring for her two nieces. The first years of a child’s life are the most critical, Beers said, and she hoped to give her future students a solid beginning.

“My nieces weren’t given a great start, and then they came to live with me, and so now it’s just reemphasized how much I want to be able to do that for other kids too.”

Beers withdrew from her spring semester courses following the first open forum with education students. For now, Beers’ path is uncertain as she waits to learn how her program and her degree progress will be affected.

For now, the education majors share memes and information in the support group and wait for further details to be released. The university has posted an FAQ page for the School of Education addressing concerns about the loss of accreditation.

The FAQ denies that the loss of accreditation was related to the University of Alaska system consolidation of a College of Education at UAS. That decision last year disassembled UAA’s College of Education and moved the School of Education under the umbrella of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Other UA education programs have not been affected by this decision. The UAF School of Education posted on Facebook that their programs received national accreditation from CAEP through 2024.