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Submitted by Nina M. Riccio on March 27, 2012

Of the many partnerships that Fairfield University has with organizations beyond the campus gates, one of the most special has to be GSEAP’s partnership with family-like St. Catherine Academy across town.

Part of the diocese of Bridgeport, St. Catherine’s serves 20 students, ages 5-21, with multiple intellectual disabilities. The school’s president, Helen Burland, graduated from Fairfield in 1980 with a degree in psychology, and now serves on the GSEAP Advisory Board. “Our partnership with the University has allowed St. Catherine’s to have access to people who are researching current thinking for special education, of course. But we’ve also been able to tap into GSEAP’s resources in marriage and family therapy, psychology, and counseling,” she says.

This spring, for example, Drs. Christine Siegel, associate dean and associate professor of school psychology, and Evelyn Bilias Lolis, assistant professor of school psychology and special education, are hosting a workshop series for parents on coping with adolescents with special needs. “I have been researching parenting stress, and Dr. Bilias Lolis’ research examines positive behavioral support interventions for students with cognitive disabilities,” Dr. Siegel explained. “Helen was interested in doing more for parents, and the workshop series was borne of that.”

Fairfield supports St. Catherine’s in other ways as well. The University hosts the school’s annual fundraising dinner, and older students visit the University to observe possible vocations and to socialize in the cafeteria.

As for GSEAP students, “There are a wealth of things for grad students to observe in our classes,” says Burland. “It gives them a chance to see theory put into action, and helps them validate those theories.” In the future, there may be opportunities for GSEAP students to teach.

“For GSEAP students and faculty alike, St. Catherine’s offers an invaluable opportunity to contribute to an educational climate that embodies high quality teaching, innovation, openness, and hope,” adds Dr. Bilias Lolis.

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