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Cunningham Reflects on Time as Starpoint Associate

Claire Cunningham at TCU College of Education Research and Pedagogy Festival
Claire Cunningham, former Starpoint Associate and master’s category winner at 2017 Research & Pedagogy Festival

Claire Cunningham closed out her second year as a Starpoint Associate this May, and said the TCU laboratory school has encouraged her passion for special education and taught her many lessons. She applied for the position after receiving a Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education and a Special Education teaching certificate in 2014.

“I applied to be the Starpoint Associate because my field placement at Starpoint junior year had a huge impact on me as a teacher,” Cunningham said. “After that experience, I began to see what it truly felt like to be able to teach a student who struggles to learn and help them in overcoming their learning obstacles.”

The appointment is offered to one TCU graduate student every year, providing a source of financial aid and real-world special education experience. Associates are responsible for developing high level and specialized teaching skills in appropriate areas, based on the needs of the program, teachers, and children at the school.

Director and Jean W. Roach Chair of Laboratory Schools Marilyn Tolbert said “the Associate position began in 1976 and has been an integral part of the Starpoint School and College of Education ever since.”

“The Starpoint Associate position helps fulfill the original dream of Alice and M.J. Neeley of teachers learning to teach children with learning disabilities and carrying on those strategies to other children and schools. It is a vital part of the school and allows us to provide individualized instruction and meet the needs of the children,” Tolbert said.

During the first year of Cunningham’s appointment, she worked part-time at Starpoint while working on a Master of Education in Special Education. She helped where needed, providing individual reading fluency intervention, explicit spelling instruction and working as a long-term substitute.

During her second year, she co-taught the third level classroom with Kim Payne, assistant director of Starpoint School an associate herself from 1979 to 1981. Cunningham received more responsibility during her second year, teaching all academic content areas, communicating with parents and creating individualized lesson plans. She also implemented a classroom management plan, behavior management plan and helped with homework club.

Cunningham said she learned many valuable lessons during her time as a Starpoint associate, including the importance of open communication with parents, collaboration with colleagues and maintaining a routine.

“When students know what the classroom procedures and routines are, they can complete tasks independently, instilling confidence and self-efficacy,” she said.

While working at Starpoint and completing master’s coursework, Cunningham also worked with the ANSERS Institute to conduct research. She won the College of Education Research & Pedagogy Festival, Master’s category, with her work with Dr. Michael Faggella-Luby exploring the effects of using sentence writing strategies on sentence quality.

Cunningham graduated in May with her Master of Education in Special Education and will be teaching at Tanglewood Elementary School in Fort Worth ISD as a Special Education teacher. She will be a resource and inclusion teacher and will be working mainly with students with learning disabilities.

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