Four IECA Members Honored with 2022 Making a Difference Awards

IECA has recognized four independent educational consultants (IECs) from across the U.S. with its annual Making a Difference Awards in recognition of their selfless volunteer efforts that have made a difference in the work of the association’s 2,600 members during this year.

Award recipients include Chris Andersson of New York, NY; Cheryl Chamberlain of Riverwoods, IL; Yesim Erez of Anaheim Hills, CA and Istanbul, Turkey; and Yvonne Espinoza of Austin, TX.

Through their efforts, these members have added significantly to the strengths and skills of their IECA member colleagues in their work with tens of thousands of students annually. The lifelong learning, collegiality, and ethical standards represented by the awardees are the hallmarks of IECA.

The Making a Difference Awards were presented by IECA Board President Ibrahim Firat during the organization’s Fall Conference (November 7-9, 2022 in San Diego, CA), which was attended by over 1,000 independent educational consultants and college, school, and therapeutic program representatives.

“Our Making a Difference awardees have fostered connections and community among IECA members, and shared resources benefiting all members’ IEC practices,” said IECA CEO Mark Sklarow. “Their collegiality and generosity are hallmarks of IECA.”

Ibrahim Firat (left) with Chris Andersson (right)
Cheryl Chamberlain
Ibrahim Firat (left) with Yesim Erez (right)
Yvonne Espinoza

IECA Responds to Tragic Violence at Universities

We are devastated by the tragic acts of violence at the University of Idaho and the University of Virginia. We extended our deepest sympathies to the families of the victims as well as the students, faculty, and staff at both universities, and their families.

We urge our members and your student and family clients to prioritize your mental health and wellness, both in the face of such horrific events and for long-term health and well-being. We also advocate for policies that focus on the mental health and wellness of our students and educators to help prevent such tragic events in the future.

You may find these resources helpful, as both parents and educators:

IECA Advocates for Religious Tolerance and Inclusion

IECA advocates for religious tolerance and inclusion and condemn all forms of antisemitism, extremism, hate, and bigotry. We believe no one should feel attacked or marginalized because of their religious beliefs, and that every student, family, and colleague should be treated with kindness, acceptance, and respect.

Disturbingly, antisemitism remains a persistent and serious problem in the US and globally. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports that attacks on Jewish people and sites in the US were committed at record high levels in 2021, including hundreds at colleges and universities. We at IECA are deeply troubled by this intolerance and offer our support and empathy to our Jewish students, families, members, and affiliated professionals.

IECA is committed to helping families of all backgrounds have access to skilled and ethical academic or therapeutic guidance and to creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. We welcome all individuals, regardless of age, citizenship status, culture, disability, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, learning differences, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. Our work to promote equity, fairness, and inclusion must be constant.

We urge our members and colleagues to recognize and respond to instances of antisemitism, bigotry, and hate. Here are resources to help you take action today:

As leaders in education, we have an opportunity to model leadership that is focused on unity, support, and action. We must do our part to build a more tolerant, inclusive, and socially just society.

IECA Presents to US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions

On October 19, 2022, IECA members Bar Clarke,  Karen Mabie, Heidi Molbak, and Jesse Quam joined CEO Mark Sklarow in presenting to the senior staff of the Senate Committee that oversees a wide area of legislative responsibility. The US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) requested IECA’s input as it explores adolescents and mental health, with a particular focus on health and safety of teens in therapeutic residential programs. Staff leaders representing Senator Patty Murray (WA) and IECA’s legislative counsel, Craig Saperstein of Pillsbury Law, also participated in the meeting.

At the outset, IECA had the chance to explain the Association’s work, our criteria for membership, and earning designations in therapeutic placements. IECA’s Principles of Good Practice, our Standards of Excellence and training new independent educational consultants (IECs) through our Summer Training Institute were all explored by the Committee staff. They seemed particularly interested in our prohibition against accepting kickbacks or expensive gifts as well as the role IECs play beyond student placement including after-care, family dynamics, and communication with parties during treatment periods.

In response to questions about campus visits, IECA members noted that being able to visit a campus and speak with students was incredibly valuable, and that the online Member Network allows IECA members to find trusted colleagues who may have a recent experience with a program. Mark Sklarow cautioned that while IECA members can visit programs, these are planned and controlled, and that state government and credentialing organization hold greater authority in evaluative visits which can be unscheduled and more invasive.

The Senate Committee staffers seemed interested to learn that IECs are, at times, brought on to assist a school district in finding residential care when local options have been exhausted. Likewise, referrals from psychologists and other professionals were discussed.

Bringing up the “horror stories” at programs that surfaced in the news recently, the IECA team offered several insights. They noted that many of these stories relate to instances more than two decades old, which was followed by a period of dramatic change and improvement in program staff training, new policies to safeguard children, and the like. Additionally, we noted that many of the stories specifically relate to publicly financed programs, not those privately held. Even so, the IECA team was clear that IECA supports new legislation that can assure the safety and care of teens, including extensive staff training on therapeutic holds and isolation, record-keeping, improved communication between teens and parents, and recognition of client rights.

IECA also addressed the work of some unaffiliated consultants who act as program recruiters or agents, accepting kickbacks (while masquerading as IECs), and indicated that such actions hurt the professional reputation of legitimate IECs. IECA endorsed mental health parity and expressed concern that those who go too far to attack all therapeutic schools and programs run the risk of stigmatizing adolescents seeking mental health care.

IECA and our Therapeutic and Government Relations Committees anticipate providing additional input to the Senate Committee in the new legislative year.

Establishing an Inclusive Practice, Supporting Our LGBTQIA+ Students

Note: This blog uses terms that may be unfamiliar to some readers. It Gets Better Project offers a helpful glossary.

Happy Pride Month, IECA!

In June, the month of the historic Stonewall Uprising of 1969, we celebrate with Pride the global LGBTQIA+ community and the Black and Brown trans foremothers of the gay rights movement, people who fought for equality and justice in the face of violence and harassment for being their authentic selves.

Pride Month is about celebration, but it is also about advocacy and activism. As IECs, we are in a prime position to be allies and advocates for our LGBTQIA+ students.

Supporting LGBTQIA+ People

The first thing we can do to support our LGBTQIA+ students and families is to ensure that we support our LGBTQIA+ colleagues and people in our everyday lives. Learning how individual schools, colleges, and therapeutic programs serve LGBTQIA+ students is important, but that information will land flat if our consulting practices and professional associations don’t operate inclusively to begin with.

Let’s start by recognizing the falsehoods and societal norms we’ve internalized and re-educate ourselves so we can be effective allies.

Misinformation and false assumptions cause harm to LGBTQIA+ people. Having a gender identity or sexual orientation that does not align with cisnormative, heteronormative standards is not someone’s lifestyle choice or political statement. It is the true, lived experience of a human being.

Being raised with recent social norms can result in anti-LGBTQIA+ bias and internalized homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism—even for people within the LGBTQIA+ community. These norms lead us to expect that people are heterosexual and identify with the gender they were assigned at birth unless we’re told otherwise, unless the person “comes out.” These assumptions are unconscious until we make an effort to examine and counteract them by seeking education.

Educating Ourselves

LGBTQIA+. Heteronormative. Homophobia. Transgender. Ally. Microaggression. Gay. Queer.

Some of these words may be familiar. Others may not. Make an effort to learn them. Find a buddy to practice with and help you use them. Pronouns and chosen names, in particular, require practice.

Education helps us be informed and effective allies. Don’t rely on an LGBTQIA+ person to define terms or tell you why certain language is hurtful or offensive. Use Google and accept responsibility for your own learning. (You’ll find numerous resources throughout this blog.)

Being an Ally Requires Action

Allies take action even when it’s uncomfortable.

For example: Speak up when you observe microaggressions against an LGBTQIA+ person or group. Correct a speaker who has misgendered someone. Don’t let others use words like “gay” or “queer” in a negative way or tell an LGBTQIA+ person to act or look differently in order to fit in. When you make an inevitable mistake, apologize, correct it, and move on without calling further attention to the blunder.

Be an Ally by Protecting LGBTQIA+ Students

We live in an unjust world where LGBTQIA+ students are not always safe, even at home. If a student comes out to you, respond with appreciation, respect, and affirmation. Listen attentively. Ask if they need any help or resources.

Maintain student confidentiality in conversation, communication, and written notes. It is critically important that we don’t “out” a student to anyone, including their family. Consider specifying in your client agreement that you will maintain student confidentiality except in cases where you are a mandatory reporter or choose to follow such guidelines.

Develop a list of local and online organizations that you can share with students if needed. GLSEN’s When A Student Comes Out to You blog provides helpful advice for education professionals, and their Coming Out blog and handout are excellent resources for students.

Other Actions That Build an Inclusive Practice

  • Create and promote a non-discrimination policy.
    Be sure your policy includes non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Ensure that it applies to all individuals, including students, parents/guardians/caregivers, employees, vendors, and your professional network.
  • Conduct a content audit.
    Are your forms, resources, and photos inclusive of all identities and family structures? Do you use inclusive language in your online content and communication with families?
  • Ask for chosen or preferred name, rather than nickname.
    A nickname can be informal or trivial, whereas a trans student’s chosen name is a vital affirmation of their identity. To be inclusive of trans students, use the term chosen name or preferred name, or simply ask “What would you like me to call you?”
  • Don’t require, or even request, a person’s legal name.
    A trans person’s legal name may be dysphoric for them. Only ask for it when absolutely necessary, such as on applications that will need to match the student’s high school or medical records.
  • Avoid “othering” trans and non-binary people when requesting pronouns.
    When requesting pronouns from clients, provide a blank line where each respondent may fill in their own answer. This is preferable to trying to list all possible pronouns and avoids minimizing the identity of someone who might otherwise have selected “Other.”
  • Don’t make sharing pronouns compulsory.
    A student may feel unsafe sharing their pronouns, especially in a group setting. Likewise, someone who is struggling to determine their true identity after years of hiding it may not be ready to share definitive pronouns. Make sharing an option, not a requirement. Use the person’s name when referring to them until they share their pronouns or you can ask privately.

Safer Spaces Start with Us

Establishing an inclusive practice for LGBTQIA+ students and families requires that we continue to learn and grow. The resulting strength of our personal and professional relationships, and the joy of a well-supported and well-advised student, remind us why the effort is worth it.

By Suzanne Lewis, M.Ed., founder & CEO of Meridian Educational Consulting LLC. As an active Professional member of IECA, she serves on the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) Committee, was a 2021 Summer Training Institute (STI) faculty member, and co-founded the LGBTQIA+ and Allies Affinity Group with Chris Andersson.

Resources for Further Study

Many local and national organizations provide resources and education for you or your constituents:

PFLAG – With over 400 chapters across the country, PFLAG provides confidential peer support, education, and advocacy to LGBTQ+ people, their parents and families, and allies.

GLSEN – Their mission is to ensure that every member of every K-12 school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Provides student programs, advocacy, research, and policy work.

The Trevor Project – The world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people. Also offers resources and education for people working with LGBTQ youth.

  • Read the report from their 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.

It Gets Better Project – Their mission is to uplift, empower, and connect LGBTQ+ youth around the globe. Offers inspiring content and mental health tools.

Campus Pride – The leading organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create a safer college environment for LGBTQ students. Known for the Campus Pride Index database of LGBTQ-friendly campuses, they offer a myriad of other resources for college students and those building college lists.

The Williams Institute – The leading research center on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy. Ensures that facts—not stereotypes—inform laws, policies, and judicial decisions that affect the LGBT community.

  • Published a report in May 2022 on the “Experiences of LGBTQ People in Four-Year Colleges and Graduate Programs.”

Introducing the AXS Companion to the Common Application

The AXS Companion is now available for college-bound students to use!

College enrollment continues to decline while barriers for under-resourced students grow—but the AXS Companion to Common App, a new initiative by IECA, in partnership with Oregon State University, aims to reverse this trend by supporting these students as they begin their college journey.

Applying to college is already a complex and often stressful process, and first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students of color have faced even greater hurdles to college during the pandemic: reduced or no access to college and school counselors; limited opportunities to access information and resources due to school closures; and a lack of familiarity with the US college and financial aid application processes within their families.

According to Common App, approximately one-third of their million-plus annual applicants are first-generation students. These students are more likely to create Common App accounts without submitting applications because they “often lack familial and school-based guidance on how to navigate the complex admission waters,” according to a recent article on BestColleges.com. It continues: “Just last year, about 700,000 seniors who opened Common App accounts never completed an application.”

Seeing this disparity in access to higher education, a group of IECA members set out to make a change. The result is the AXS Companion, a free online resource that aims to improve access and clarity for under-resourced students who lack college counseling support. Through detailed videos, the AXS Companion walks students through each step of Common App from beginning to end. Alternatively, students can watch an individual section’s videos to understand how to best respond to that section based on their circumstances.

View this video to see samples of the AXS Companion and to learn more about the project:

How the Project Came About

Several years ago, Maite Halley, an IECA member who has been a leader in the association in several capacities, envisioned this project as live workshops to support under-resourced communities. During COVID-19, Marilyn O’Toole, IECA member and liaison to Common App, asked Common App leadership if IECA members could pivot and develop step-by-step videos for the initiative instead.

With Common App’s approval, O’Toole then engaged Jon Boeckenstedt, vice provost at Oregon State University to discuss solutions to store and organize the video resources. This evolved into the collaborative framework of Oregon State University Ecampus building the platform, with IECA providing the content.

Left to right, clockwise: IECA members Jeffy Levy, Marilyn O'Toole, Pat Smith, Ibrahim Firat, Sylvia Jackman, Louise Franklin, and Jennie Kent.

Over the last eight months, many IECA members have worked tirelessly on this project, including: Ibrahim Firat, Louise Franklin, Carolyn Gelderman, Anne Holmdahl, Sylvia Jackman, Amy Jasper, Jennie Kent, Jeff Levy, Janae McCullough-Boyd, Marilyn O’Toole, Chantal Paiewonksy, Veena Rao, Pat Smith, and Juan Camilo Tamayo. These dedicated members produced the project content, which included writing and editing curriculum and scripts, as well as recording audio and video for 50+ modules for each section of Common App. Additionally, they called on experts in various fields to support their efforts, and created modules that provide financial aid guidance, essay suggestions, and admissions officers’ advice. The project creators chose the name The AXS Companion because of the double entendre: improving student access through the collaborative axis of higher education and IECA. The AXS Companion was introduced at the IECA 2022 Spring Conference in Philadelphia and is launching on September 1, 2022.

IECA is grateful to the members of the Oregon State University Ecampus who trained our colleagues to audio and visually record each section and then edited hours of their recordings, adding animation to make the directions and guidance clear. In addition, thank you to the engineers, graphic designers, animators, and project managers who have worked tirelessly to create this invaluable resource. 

Pictured above (left to right, clockwise): IECA members Jeffy Levy, Marilyn O’Toole, Pat Smith, Ibrahim Firat, Sylvia Jackman, Louise Franklin, and Jennie Kent.

IECA Advocates for School Safety in Wake of Texas School Shooting

All of us at IECA are profoundly saddened by the horrific school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas yesterday. We offer our deepest sympathies to those who lost loved ones at this senseless, devastating act of violence, and to the entire Uvalde, Texas community. We also extend our support to those who are re-traumatized from other, all-too-familiar past violent experiences both within and beyond school buildings.

As educators, we call for action by our elected officials to restore our schools as safe environments for students, teachers, families, and staff. We encourage our members to look closely at the policies of their local officials and to advocate for initiatives aimed at firearm safety and mental health initiatives toward preventing such future tragic violent acts. No teacher or child should have to feel afraid in a classroom.

For parents and educators across the country helping students process this horrific event, these resources may be helpful:

How The New Digital SAT May Impact Students with Learning Differences

The standardized testing landscape has changed dramatically in the past few years with the pandemic-fueled increase in test-optional and even test-blind college admissions. Now the new digital SAT is shaking up the landscape even more, particularly for those students who receive standardized testing accommodations. With many assistive technology options, the new digital SAT will likely benefit many students with learning differences. However, there are a few drawbacks to consider.

Here are some ways the new digital SAT may positively and negatively impact neurodiverse students.

Pros:
  • Shorter test will benefit students with attention challenges such as ADHD
  • Completing the test on the computer will eliminate the difficulty some students have with tracking and alleviate the difficulties with bubbling in a scantron form for those with fine motor control challenges
  • Adaptive questions, which adjust to a student’s ability, may decrease frustration
  • More time per question, so a student’s processing speed is less important
  • Shorter reading passages benefit those with reading challenges
  • Text-to-speech capability, where a student can adjust the speed of delivery vs. relying on a human reader, which can be unpredictable
  • Students can alter the font size and type of font, colors, and background for increased readability
  • Calculator available on screen to help those with math calculation difficulties
  • Math formulas available for students to reference, reducing the need for memorization
  • Highlighter tool can help students mark text or answer options
  • Students can increase amount of white space between lines of text for easier reading
  • No more relying on a live proctor—extra time is much easier to administer because it’s run by the computer, ensuring a consistent, reliable experience
  • Students can isolate one line of text at a time to block out distractions
  • Students can eliminate answers using “strikethrough” to help them narrow answer options
  • Students can zoom in to make text bigger
  • Scratch paper will still be available
  • Access to a clock on the computer that counts down the time and gives a five-minute warning, helping students to manage their time strategically
Possible Cons:
  • The adaptive feature could cause anxiety and distraction for students who try to figure out the level of questions they are being offered
  • Students without computers will be using borrowed computers they may not be familiar with; this could disadvantage students without access to computers or who don’t have a comfort level with the computer they will using for the test

The PSAT in October 2022 will be a good trial run to see the ways in which LD/ND students experience and potentially benefit from the new format. IECs need to be aware that the class of 2025 will be a “test” class, because the scoring will be different from the paper SAT and there will be no correlation tables. IECs can help students prepare for the new format by recommending they take a digital practice test (if available) to familiarize themselves with using their accommodations on the new format.

Overall, the new digital SAT has the potential to greatly improve the testing experience for many students with learning differences.

By Elizabeth Cooper, JD, IECA (MA); Julie Richie, MFA, IECA (TX); and Ann Rossbach, MAT, CEP, IECA (NJ)

Tips for IECs Guiding College Transfer Applicants

Not all students start at university and graduate four years later from their initial university. Some students start at community college with a plan to transfer to a four-year university in an effort to save money, have smaller, more supportive foundational courses, and/or explore different courses prior to settling on a major. Others enroll at a four-year university but determine that the school is not the best fit for them after all. With a global pandemic causing financial hardships and making college visits more difficult, independent educational consultants (IECs) may find themselves guiding more transfer applicants to four-year universities.

Below are tips for IECs helping student applicants manage this transition.

College Grades Matter Most

Whether students are enrolled in a community college or another four-year university, students should know that admissions officers will be focusing primarily on the college courses taken and grades earned. Some universities may have specific unit or course requirements for transfer students, such as having completed a minimum number of units or core courses in a breadth of subjects. Determining transfer eligibility will require careful research of each potential university. 

To a lesser extent, admissions officers will be looking at engagement in clubs and activities while at college. Strong transfer applicants will have made the most of their time at their initial institution. Extracurricular activities from high school or a gap year may be considered if the student has spent less than two years at the initial college. 

The Major

Most transfer applicants will need to apply to a specific major. Unlike first-year applicants, transfer applicants generally cannot apply as an Undeclared or Undecided major as the university that the student is applying to wants to know that the applicant will be able to complete their degree within two to three years of transferring.  

Appropriate preparation for transfer may include the completion of prerequisite courses for the major, especially when applying to competitive or impacted fields. Ask students to acquire and save syllabi from their classes whenever possible, as some schools and major departments may use these to evaluate course equivalencies.  

Articulation Agreements and Transfer Guarantees

Some community colleges have transfer admission guarantee programs with universities, but applicants must meet very specific requirements, and students may need to start with a detailed plan when they initially enroll at community college in order to take required courses (especially important for STEM majors for which successive courses require prerequisites). In some cases, these guarantees may require completion of an associate’s degree.  

If there is no specific guarantee or transfer pathway in place, or if the student is hoping to transfer between four-year schools, look for articulation agreements and course equivalency guides. Many universities post transfer courses that have previously been accepted for credit, or participate in a central database, such as Transferology 

Transfer Application Essays

The community college to four-year university application essay should focus on how the student has planned and prepared for transfer and may include details about extracurricular activities at the college or in the workforce. 

 The four-year university to four-year university transfer application essay should focus on the positive reasons for transferring, and what the student will do differently at the new university in order to be successful. It is best to avoid saying anything negative about the previous university (aside from it not being the best fit for the student). 

The Transfer Transition

Check to see if there are transfer coordinators, transfer support programs, and transfer housing at the schools being considered. All of these will help the student make the transition to a new university.  

Map out a path to graduation at potential universities. Some transfer students find that an additional semester or year is required to graduate in the desired major. It may be useful to check on maximum unit policies and fifth-year senior housing possibilities in some cases to ensure that the student will not just be able to gain admittance to a new university, but also graduate with a degree in a reasonable timeframe. 

Finally, check to see what financial aid may be available at the universities where you will be applying to transfer to. Applicants will need to submit the FAFSA in order to receive any need-based aid that they qualify for. Some, but not all, universities offer merit aid to transfer students. 

IECA members: Join the Transfer Students Affinity Group on the Member Network for more support and discussion on working with college students exploring undergraduate transfer opportunities. 

By Jaime Smith, MA, IECA Associate (OR) and Priscilla Vivio, MEd, IECA Associate (WA),  IECA Transfer Students Affinity Group Coordinators 

New Year, Fresh Start

While many of us have already made—and broken—resolutions for the New Year, I wanted to offer a few ideas for independent educational consultants (IECs) still exploring goals and direction for 2022.

1. Establish a personal care plan.

No one—not a parent, teacher, or an independent educational consultant—can take on the concerns, anxieties, and emotional baggage of clients without a plan to care for their own emotional well-being. Explore some of the many mindfulness apps, begin a walking routine, join a book club—whatever works for you. Choose something that will help you escape the work you do. If you get into the habit NOW, it will already be part of your normal routine when the next busy season arrives.

2. Remember the personal care needs of your employees as well.

As we close in on the two-year anniversary of COVID-19, let’s also remember that your accountant, client-services rep, tutors, and essays specialist are also dealing with demands of work and disruptions to family norms. Think about offering flexible scheduling, time for exercise, and responsiveness to COVID-related scheduling changes, and resolve to give your team space to thrive.

3. Consider how rough it has been for so many people.

In addition to health care workers, many others are bearing relentless attacks by those who seemingly blame them for things well outside of their control. This includes food servers, teachers, store clerks, and airline workers. Let’s resolve to show some grace and offer words of affirmation to those whose work has become unpleasant.

4. Take advantage of technology in ways that make your life and your clients’ lives easier.

Talk about a win-win! Consider online payment platforms, meeting schedulers, offering digital resources, and using a new social media platform—just a few examples of technology use that ought to be on your radar this year.

5. Uncover ways that you can be a better IEC to under-resourced and under-supported communities.

This could take the form of pro bono work or volunteering with a community-based organization. It can also mean looking at ways you could do a better job understanding and responding to the changing face of adolescents. As America’s teens become more diverse, resolve to take coursework, get certified, and become more knowledgeable about inclusion—whether the differences are based in race, religion, sexual identify, physical disabilities, or neurodiversity. Becoming an advocate for the under-served or marginalized makes you a stronger IEC in your own practice and in educating peers.

6. Finally, get involved in your professional IECA community.

Become a mentor, request a mentor, learn a new specialty, attend an IECA conference, present a session or lead a discussion at a conference, join Affinity Groups, and become active in your Regional Group. This is how we make the profession and the association stronger. Resolve to recommend membership to an unaffiliated IEC. Let’s strengthen our community, together.

By Mark Sklarow, IECA CEO