When Kayla Sullivan was an undergraduate student, she had plans to become a teacher. She found her true calling with the help of Jerry Renehan, her stepbrother with autism.
“When I got done with my homework, I helped him with his,” she said. “That’s when special education clicked with me. That’s where my heart is.”
So, Sullivan enrolled in the Master of Science in Education – Special Education – Intervention Specialist Mild-Moderate Disabilities online program at Youngstown State University (YSU).
“I decided the master’s degree was my best opportunity to get my special education teaching license,” she said. “I wanted to do it all online because I started my first year of teaching last year, as well as starting my master’s degree.”
Sullivan teaches sixth grade at Michigan Cities Area Schools in northwest Indiana. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Purdue University Northwest in 2020.
“I was looking at multiple schools for a master’s degree program,” she said. “Talking with people at Youngstown State, I learned that their communication with students is great, with regular calls and check-ins to make sure everything is okay.
“I knew it would be tough doing this in my first year of teaching, and I didn’t think I could do it 100% on my own. The reassurance that they would call and check on me helped make my decision.”
So far, the online format is working out well for Sullivan, who is on track to complete the program in late 2021 or early 2022.
“It’s very manageable,” she said. “The professors have the same routine — discussion board on Wednesday, responses on Sunday with your assignment due on Sunday. That routine has helped so much. I know what’s coming and when.”
As a senior in high school in Valparaiso, Indiana, Sullivan participated in the Cadet Teaching program with area first-graders.
“That got me into wanting to become a teacher,” she said. “Before that, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career.”
Since enrolling at YSU in the fall of 2020, Sullivan has especially enjoyed the curriculum, leadership and support of the faculty members.
“I love all of the courses. My professors have been amazing,” she said, giving Dr. Ajay Das special mention. “They get that we have lives outside of this college program.
“If we need a few extra hours for an assignment, they are more than willing to give it to us and help us any way we need. They get back to you immediately when you have a question.”
So far, Sullivan has found the information in the program very applicable to her classroom as she embarks on her career as an educator.
“I have about 20 kids in my class,” she said. “When my co-teacher comes in every week, I say, ‘Hey, I learned this. Let’s try it.’ And we do. It’s worked out well with the kids, and I feel like I am also teaching my co-teacher new things.
“I already feel like I know a lot more about how to help our students because I have that exposure and experience with the kids. I am always able to help them when they need recommendations, as well.”
Right on Track
Sullivan receives substantial encouragement from her family and friends as she extends her advanced education journey — thanks, in part, to her stepbrother.
“They’re very excited,” she said. “I have an older sister, Katherine, who got her master’s degree. I am right behind her.
“After I complete this program, I am going to get my doctorate (Ed.D.) in special education. I hope to eventually run the special education department at our Michigan Cities Area Schools.”
For now, Sullivan is keeping busy. In addition to teaching and earning a degree, she coaches basketball and soccer at her school. More than ever, she realizes the importance of staying on top of her commitments.
“You have to be organized and stay organized in the program — especially if you have a career outside of school,” she said. “Also, reach out for help, whether you are in the course with a professor or it’s one you had in a previous course. Everyone is super willing to help in any way possible.”
Sullivan also knows that YSU’s online M.S. Ed. – Special Education – Intervention Specialist Mild-Moderate Disabilities program was the best route for her to take to achieve her goals.
“I have already gotten more than I expected from it,” she said. “I am blown away by the courses and the assignments we get.
“It’s a lot of situational learning. We get case studies where we can put in our own opinions on what we would do in the classroom. That’s nice!”