Human rights activist Marina Schuster speaks for Bhutto-Ispahani lecture series.
Dr. Janice Pilgreen, the newest member of The Academy at La Verne, has dedicated her career to enabling students to unlock the door to knowledge and understanding by helping them to read and to write better.
The members of The Academy at La Verne have each made great sacrifices in their careers on the road to achievement, but the newest member of the academy, Dr. Janice Pilgreen, might have them all beat.
After earning both her undergraduate and master’s degrees at UCLA, Pilgreen did something that, for some, would be unthinkable: She enrolled at USC.
“Yes, I went to the enemy school, I went to USC, which is a strange combination,” said Pilgreen, whose professional life is committed to teaching teachers to help students read better. “In my previous life, as a public school teacher, I taught seventh through twelfth-graders, for almost 22 years. I encountered so many kids who were reading below grade level and were not able to do well in any of their subjects — not just English, but social studies, science, chemistry, math, health, physics — everything.
“So, I went back to get my master’s degree in reading at UCLA and still didn’t feel like I knew enough. So, at some point, it occurred to me that I could help people a little bit more if I could teach teachers.”
So, Pilgreen took the long trip across town, earned a Ph.D. in Education — and officially became a Trojan. That led her to the University of La Verne, where she says she is able to make more of a difference in the lives of students. And she says there is much work to be done.
“This fall, in addition to the smaller kids, we have seventh through twelfth-graders in here,” Pilgreen said of the Literacy Center at La Verne, which occupies what once was a church on Second and E streets. “There will be kids who read five grade levels or six grade levels below, who would never pass the California high school exit exam, ever, unless they were to be with us for a very long time. But they’re getting a start on it, and hopefully, the parents will do everything they can to keep the support going.”
The tutoring is free of charge, thanks to grants from various foundations, so the parents benefit, and teachers in training in La Verne’s College of Education get live, first-hand training with actual students in need. Students requiring more intensive tutoring can get up to 36 hours of one-on-one, completely personalized instruction.
It’s clear to see Pilgreen’s dedication to her profession in a resume that’s 10 pages long. Aside from teaching teachers, Pilgreen attends dozens of conferences. She’s an author, a speaker, a presenter, an organizer and a reviewer, among other things. But apparently, nothing prepared Pilgreen for her induction into The Academy at La Verne, an elite group of faculty members who distinguish themselves in research and publication.
“It was exciting. It wasn’t expected,” Pilgreen said. “I know that a lot of the people who are in the Academy do kind of hardcore science research where they are working under grants and they are doing pure experimental research. With educational research, often you’ll have a lot more qualitative research that is based on interviews, surveys and so forth.
“It’s harder to do controlled studies in schools where kids are already in intact classes. The other thing is, I tend to have done more writing in the form of chapters in books and continuously pumping out articles. Somehow I get committed to a publisher or I get asked to do something and take that and go with it, so I just never have thought about being in the Academy.”
Pilgreen joins current members Jonathan Reed, Iraj Parchamazad, Thomas Harvey, Jeffrey Kahan, Andrea Labinger, Ken Marcus, Ken Scambray, Reed Gratz, Kathy Lamkin, Jack Meek, Glenn Gamst, Ruth Trotter, Felicia Beardsley and Al Clark (honorary).
“I knew that [the Academy] was composed of people who really value research a lot, who do it passionately,” she said. “When I look at the people who are in there, I highly respect them and I thought, what a great honor that would be. But again, there aren’t very many people from my field, education. I think Tom Harvey is the only one who’s in there from education. So I guess I just never thought of it. I thought it would be the people in chemistry or science or whatever that would tend to be the Academy members.”
Pilgreen is on sabbatical this fall, and her workload will be heavy. Still, she sounds as though she couldn’t be happier.
“This is an opportunity to really continue with writing. It is exciting for me,” she said. “I haven’t had a sabbatical in nine years. I have a chapter that’s due to Texas A&M University at the end of October. I have a book due to Corwin Press next July, and I have a certificate program to re-write for the State of California. Otherwise, I’m free as a bird.”
One of Pilgreen’s more interesting projects will be to conduct interviews with 15- to 18-year-old boys who are incarcerated in a Juvenile Hall school, to find out about their reading history. Through her research in the case studies, she will attempt to document how reading has affected their lives in the past, and speculate about how their current reading habits may affect their future.
“I started this research about a year ago,” Pilgreen said. “I already have a lot of data, but I will be collecting more data, probably through March. I am hoping an article will come out of this, a conference presentation, as well as probably a chapter in the book that’s due in July.
It’s a lot of work. Pilgreen makes it sound like Carribean cruise.
“It’s fun to do the research and write the reports,” she said. “When you have the data and you see how it’s all coming together, and then you get to write about it, and that’s fun. Then, you want to get more data to fill in the gaps that you see. It’s like a seesaw, you keep doing both.
“As long as I’m able to work, this is what I will be doing. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing, and looking back over my life, there’s not a different career that I would have chosen. I love what I do. I love the people that I work with. I can’t imagine a better career.”