For 50 years, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Department of Literacy and Language within the College of Education and Human Services has been preparing literacy leaders through their Masters in Science Education (MSE)–Literacy program.
In 2017 alone, 40 students graduated with a master’s degree from the program and are working as classroom teachers, reading teachers or reading specialists.
The definition of literacy today is quite different than it was even 10 years ago—including technology skills, cultural awareness and the ability to analyze and evaluate a variety of information sources as well as traditional notions of reading and writing. As the definition of literacy evolves, so does the charge of educators who help students master the skills and abilities to make them effective communicators.
“We are proud of our growing number of UWO literacy leaders,” said Cathy Toll, department chair. “Our graduates use their new knowledge, skills and dispositions to provide school and district leadership to develop and maintain dynamic literacy programs that are adaptive to students’ needs.”In addition to our master’s degree, we have certificate programs and seven outreach cohorts around the state that lead to advanced skills and licensure in literacy leadership. We know this is important as we continue to advocate literacy for all.”
Gale Gerharz, of Chilton, MSE ’11, has worked in education for more than 27 years and knows that literacy is the key to success for any student. Currently a reading teacher in the Oshkosh Area School District, she works to develop her student’s critical thinking skills that allows them to easily navigate informational sources and evaluate their accuracy and relevance. As a UWO graduate, she values that UWO remains a consistent resource for educators.
“Literacy is a complex topic and is the foundation to a person’s success,” she said. “I chose UW Oshkosh because of their great reputation and because their professors served in leadership roles within professional development organizations that provide the latest research and continued training for educators.”
History of service
Toll said faculty, staff and alumni have a long history of service, leadership and outreach within the state. One organization that has benefited from UWO literacy leaders has been the Wisconsin State Reading Association (WSRA).
For more than 62 years, WSRA has provided PK-12 support, professional development and resources for its 2,700 members. A UWO graduate has served in the role of president 13 of those years, with eight of the presidents holding a UWO master’s degree in literacy.
Recent WRSA president and UW Oshkosh alumna Barb Novak ’06, of Madison, believes in the power of literacy to transform society and works fiercely toward students having access to equitable learning. Since 2012, her work as a literacy consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has taken her around the state to support schools and districts in standards-based instruction and assessment in the areas of reading, writing, speaking, listening and language.
“Now more than ever, all people need to access accurate information,” Novak said. “Learners of all ages need texts that serve as mirrors and windows in order to better understand themselves and others. Literacy leaders are those that also provide learners the opportunities to think about, talk about, and write about these texts,”
As the 2016-2017 WSRA’s president, Novak saw first-hand the tremendous power of collaboration and the ability of the membership to influence educational policy at the state level.
“My studies at UWO emphasized the importance of active involvement in professional organizations,” she said. “Educators are continually seeking techniques rather than purchased programs to better meet the needs of students and WSRA provides those opportunities for professionals across the state to collaborate which results to the dynamic sharing of ideas and resources. I’ve seen this build educators’ confidence which empowers them to advocate for meaningful change in their school or district.”
Continuing the UWO service legacy Gerharz is serving as the 2017-2018 WRSA president and will be the 14th alumnus in that role.
Graduate students, literacy coaches and educators will have two opportunities to connect with cutting-edge research and literacy trends this summer and fall. UWO will host the Wisconsin Literacy Research Symposium in June featuring well-known literacy researchers presenting on writing instruction with practical classroom and district applications. In addition, a Children’s Literature Conference will be held in the fall and feature prominent children’s literature authors.