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Making it Happen

Lori Califano

It’s Who I Am

When sixth grade teacher Lori Califano turned her back to the class for a moment on November 5, all heck broke loose. That’s because it was just time enough for NBC 10 News anchorwoman Patrice Wood to slip through the door and spring a surprise: thanks to her students, Califano was the recipient of a Golden Apple award in appreciation of her “creative ways of teaching”. You can watch the joyous moment here.

Califano teaches at Hope Highlands Elementary School in Cranston and she is a RIC alumna, having earned her M.Ed. in Elementary Education in 2001. She remembers the program as professional, saying, “Everybody brings to that table a different experience and you can learn from each other and kind of bounce off of each other different ideas and strategies. Everyone took it seriously.”

Califano is a Cranston native whose teaching strategy is to make learning as fun and comfortable as possible, so that her students know they’re free to make mistakes and to learn from them. Teaching, for her, is more identity than job: “It’s who I am! I am a teacher. I’m here for the kids and that’s really what it comes down to. So to receive the award because the kids nominated me, that just validates what I’m doing, that I’m doing it for the right reason. It wasn’t the district that recognized me, it wasn’t my principal, it wasn’t another colleague. It was from the kids. And I’m here 180 days for 21 years for the kids.”

Hilary Lundgren

From Dropout to Digital Champion

When Providence native Hilary Lundgren dropped out of school in the 10th grade, she could not have imagined the passion she would discover for education. Lundgren, a graduate of our MAT in Elementary Education program, was named a Rhode Island Digital Learning Champion earlier this year. The award celebrates educators who engage students by using technology to personalize learning. Lundgren is a fifth-grade teacher at West Broadway Middle School in Providence. She is currently working toward her Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) certificate at RIC.

Lundgren and fellow Digital Learning Champion Rachel Salvatore created a playful YouTube video co-starring their students to explain how they implement blended learning to reach students at every level by using data to drive individualized instruction. Lundgren has a cheerleader in WBMS principal, Bill Black, who submitted his own video rap supporting her nomination.

Lundgren credits the Highlander Institute of Providence with training her to integrate technology in a way that enables her "to meet my kids exactly where they are while still meeting the standards". The math and ELA teacher believes that combining face-to-face instruction with online content and assessment gives her students the chance to show more and measurable academic growth. She also credits blended learning for deepening her relationship with students, saying "I'm not only able to get to know them on an academic level of where they're at and where they need to be, but also at a social level: where in life they see themselves going and how we can make that connection between school and life and how we can make their learning in school really meaningful for us and for them." Lundgren's zeal for meaningful learning may be a product of her own experience as a disgruntled high school dropout who would later "decide to become a better person than what I was". Her transformative journey would take her from community college to Wheelock College, where she discovered a love of the classroom that brought her home to Providence and the Feinstein School of Education and Human Development at Rhode Island College.

Elena Yee

Change Agent

Elena Yee, a graduate student in our Masters of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, knows what it is to be "other". In fact, she's counting on it as the key to her success. Yee was the rare woman engineer working in industrial manufacturing in the 1980s, she experienced cultural alienation within her family after leaving that lucrative profession to pursue a path of service as a teacher, and today she's a non-traditional student in her fifties and one of the few students of color in her classes at RIC. The Boston native is counting on all of those experiences to strengthen her skills as a clinical mental health counselor serving marginalized and under-represented students on college campuses.

The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Yee was recently recognized as a 2015 American College Counseling Association (ACCA) Emerging Leader. She is also the Graduate Assistant for the Counseling, Educational Psychology and Leadership department at Rhode Island College. Yee worked for fourteen years in diversity in higher education and as an EFL and history teacher in Vietnam, Alaska, and China. In 2013, she wrote about a life-changing interrogation by China's Secret Police in a This I Believe essay broadcast on Rhode Island Public Radio.

Yee said she was drawn to the graduate program at RIC partly "because it is a much more racially diverse campus than other campuses I've been at or worked at in Rhode Island." She's making the shift from Student Affairs to counseling after asking herself, "What can I continue doing that will carry me even into my 70s and still be contributing to our society and helping others?" Elena Yee shares the frustrations and inspirations of her educational journey in two frank blogs: The View from Here and American Counseling Association.

Jess Rivard

Service First

There is only one person in Rhode Island assigned the heartrending job of taking care of the state’s military families after a soldier’s death and that is our own Jessica Rivard.  Rivard is the Survivor Outreach Coordinator for the United States Army, continuing a 13-year record of service she began in the Army before transferring to the Air National Guard.  She currently reports to duty one weekend a month at Quonset Point, juggling that duty with her coursework as a second-year graduate student in RIC’s Masters of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program.
The Woonsocket native came to Rhode Island College by way of Iraq, beginning her undergraduate studies in Social Work after working in Army communications and security, as well as training Iraqi forces.  She recently recalled that transition with a laugh, saying, “When I first came back from deployment it was definitely a struggle.  I was only 20 but I had all this life experience already, so coming back to the classroom after a year and a half in Iraq—it was a little weird!”
Staff Sergeant Rivard credits her fellow veteran students and the Veterans Resource Center on campus for helping her learn to manage accommodations, motivation, time and stress.  Now 30 years old, she says it is the combination of her roots as a soldier and her training as a counselor that strengthens her work helping military families after a loved one’s death. She envisions a future working with veterans, saying simply “This is where I should be.”

Rebecca Swagger

Veteran Liaison

When I see and meet vets I see people with the same lifestyles as us but also that they’re a vet and they served our country.  So they have a family life.  They have to commute, they have to put dinner on the table, pay the bills and still complete their classes.  And if they deployed they could possibly be still processing that.  They’re also coming from the structure of the military and now they’re in an academic environment that might not be as structured, so there’s an adjustment there.  And I’ve just seen veterans rising to that occasion and doing a great job with still being prideful in their service and getting the job done at school.  - Rebecca Swagger

    When a service member or veteran calls RIC’s Veterans Resource Center for guidance, the person on the other end of the line may well be Graduate Assistant Rebecca Swagger.  Swagger is a third year, part-time graduate student in the Masters of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program. Her Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a previous Master’s degree in human neuropsychology led to work researching substance abuse with the Veterans Administration in Providence.  When she decided to focus on counseling at Rhode Island College, her experience at the VA made her the right candidate for a Graduate Assistantship at the VRC.
Swagger sees herself as a navigator for student veterans, helping them acclimate to campus life and creating an accessible support system.  She has also spent three years working with a research team led by Dr. Monica Darcy that studies the demographics of veterans on campus and how RIC might improve its services to them.  Last spring, she helped present Student Service Members/Veterans The Push and Pull of Being Part of an Academic Community at the Annual Meeting of the New England Educational Research Organization. 
Swagger says that while she has found “a niche that other students don’t have and that other counselors don’t necessarily have” in her work with veterans, she plans to diversify in the future, dividing her work between research, counseling, and teaching.

Kristen Moniz

Like Mother, Like Daughter

When Kristen Moniz, a 5th and 6th grade Language Arts teacher, was named the Wilbur & McMahon School Teacher of the Year by the Little Compton School Committee, we know one fellow alum was especially proud: her mom.  That’s because Moniz and her mother, Linda Ferreira, went through RIC’s M.Ed. in Reading program together, graduating in 2009.   Moniz says the two took every single class together, serving as “each other’s proofreaders, editors, and when we had ideas we’d run them by each other.  We were more like co-teachers than we were like mother and daughter!”  The women also did their undergraduate work in Elementary Education at Rhode Island College, although not simultaneously.
Moniz says she was surprised, humbled and proud to be named School Teacher of the Year for 2014-2015, when she was working as a Reading Specialist and serving on “basically every committee you could think of”, including literacy based initiatives, PARCC Assessment training, Response to Intervention, and Student Data Leadership  teams.  The award is given to a teacher that displays dedication and hard work and has made a strong impact on the district throughout the year.
The Tiverton native believes RIC’s education program is stronger than others because of the amount of hands-on experience students get right from the very first class.  The graduate program in Reading allowed Moniz to apply what she was learning directly to her teaching and “didn’t feel like school; it felt more like you were a professional, you were sitting in a room of professionals where you were learning from your teacher as well as the other professionals.” And one of those professionals being a certain Westport teacher Moniz calls both best friend and Mom?  Bonus!

Alan Tenreiro

Matters of Principal

In matters of style,
swim with the current.
In matters of principle,
stand like a rock.

If you were to be sent to the Principal’s office at Cumberland High School, that is the message that would greet you.  The quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson is the mantra on a fading poster tacked to a corkboard in an office with a conference table but no desk.  RIC graduate Alan Tenreiro ’98, M.Ed. ’05 doesn’t need one: he’s the energetic, hands-on kind of leader you’re likely to find roaming the halls of his school, connecting directly with students and teachers. Tenreiro stands out in the crowd of some 100,000 school principals in this country, with the dramatic changes he’s made at CHS getting noticed far beyond the Ocean State.  In October, the National Association of Secondary School Principals named the Pawtucket native the 2016 National Principal of the Year. 
Things were going in the wrong direction at CHS when Tenreiro took the helm in 2012, with test scores sliding downward and disciplinary problems and absenteeism on the rise.  Under his leadership, standardized test scores have markedly improved, the number of Advanced Placement courses has doubled, the graduation rate has increased from 80% to nearly 88% and the suspension rate is down, as is the chronic absenteeism.  Cumberland High has doubled its Advanced Placement offerings and expanded STEM offerings to include robotics, pre-engineering and biotechnology. The principal says “there was a big sense of urgency to make this a flagship high school in the state again.”  He credits an embrace of Common Core standards and a more personalized approach with an emphasis on high expectations, school pride, professional development, and blended learning.  The former Social Studies teacher and soccer coach believes the key to success in education is “keeping what’s best for students” front and center.
 It may come as no surprise that Alan Tenreiro comes from a family of educators:  his grandfather was an assistant principal, his mother was a teacher, his sister is a teacher, and his wife—also a RIC graduate—was recently named Rhode Island School Counselor of the year.  It was with great pride that Cumberland High School recently surprised its popular principal by announcing his prestigious award in a joyous auditorium assembly.  You can watch it at

Barbara Pellegrino

A Formula for Excellence

When people asked Barbara Pellegrino’s young son where he went to school, he would answer, “I go to RIC!”  He wasn’t making things up: his mother was part of the Rhode Island College Cooperative Preschool, a student organization providing quality, affordable childcare through the participation of parents.  Pellegrino ’93 says that experience “helped me be able to be a mom and a student at the same time.  I couldn’t have done it without them.”  She double majored in Elementary Education and Communication and credits Rhode Island College’s support of non-traditional students for her success making the switch from a banking job to teaching, revealing that “before I went to RIC, I didn’t know where my life was going.”  Now in her tenth year at Harold F. Scott Elementary School in Warwick, Pellegrino was recently named a finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematical Teaching. 
The news came as a surprise to the first grade teacher, who was unaware the school principal had nominated her.  Pellegrino has worked on several math curriculum teams and was part of a leadership team tasked with overhauling math curriculum.  She ultimately piloted and helped choose new curriculum for the district.  A teacher with an impish sense of humor and a ready laugh, she also originated Family Math Night at Scott Elementary School, an annual event using fun and games to help students—and parents puzzled by new strategies—understand the topics they’re studying.
As for that little boy who went to RIC with his mom while she built a new life?  He’s thirty now, and no doubt very proud.​

Page last updated: May 02, 2016