The UF College of Education is in the midst of a two-year contract with Alachua County Public Schools to work with administrators, staff and students at Terwilliger Elementary School toward school improvement. Although Terwilliger received two consecutive school grades of “D” in 2017 and 2018, the school raised its grade to a “C” by the conclusion of the 2019 academic year. It was at this point in time that three personnel from the college joined the Terwilliger Turnaround Partnership.

Led by Dr. Elizabeth Bondy, professor in the School of Teaching and Learning, the team includes Lina Burklew, coordinator for all Unified Elementary ProTeach practicas and single-certification internships, and Mercedes Machado, doctoral candidate in mental health counseling in the School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education. Adding experience to the team, Burklew is also a former Alachua County elementary school teacher and principal.

Through collaboration with school leadership and evaluation the school’s academic data, the UF team identified a two-pronged approach focusing on:

  1. the quality of the learning environment for creating a strong culture for learning and
  2. the quality of instruction in primary grade classrooms.

To strengthen the learning environment, the team increased available resources to address student wellness by recruiting a UF counseling intern to work with the school’s counselor within and outside of classrooms. The team also conducted a book study with teachers about identifying, understanding and teaching children who have experienced trauma, or what are often referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Machado, the team’s mental health specialist, embedded herself within the intermediate grades team to assist students as well as teachers, who may have experienced secondary trauma as a result of their efforts to support students.

In addition to providing hands-on assistance to teachers and students in classrooms, UF team members became academic coaches to particular students and jumped into daily instruction of small groups of students when winter assessment data indicated that additional academic support for students was necessary. And then unprecedented response to a global pandemic cued the transition to emergency remote teaching, which led the team to provide new supports to the teachers and their students.

Since March, the UF team has continued working to design ongoing professional development for teachers at Terwilliger Elementary. Given the likelihood of trauma among students and teachers during this uncertain time, the team is working to rebuild and reconnect with students to strengthen the culture for learning. For example, the team is working closely with the school’s media specialist to enhance the collection of books that support the social curriculum, known as Caring School Community, to better represent the diverse student population. Featuring themes of courage, confidence, community and kindness, teachers will incorporate children’s literature into daily morning meetings with their students. Ashlea Zeller, principal at Terwilliger, is excited to continue the purposeful work together with UF that embraces the connection between building relationships and student success.

Family Math and Science Nights, a family and community event, in fall 2019

Teachers collaborate on a team-building activity.

Teachers collaborate on a team-building activity.

UF doctoral student reviews a student’s progress with her and sets goals for the coming week.

UF doctoral student reviews a student’s progress with her and sets goals for the coming week.

The team will also continue last year’s book study by considering and applying lessons from the text, “I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids” by Kyle Schwartz, which focuses on knowing and honoring children in order to teach them well. As Schwartz points out, “Our American education system has historically and is currently failing many students and we can prevail … to create schools worthy of the incredible students who fill our classrooms. We must never lose faith in the goal that every classroom, regardless of the challenges we face, can become a powerful community of learners.”

As the beginning of the school year approaches, the UF team and Terwilliger faculty will remain flexible in order to adapt to changing conditions while maintaining high quality teaching and learning. Bondy noted that, “we are poised to implement a four-part professional development for teachers on the high-leverage strategy known as explicit instruction.” The plan also includes seven resources developed for use with teachers on the pressing topics of childhood depression, anxiety, trauma and bullying, as well as teacher self-care.

During this time of great challenge and uncertainty, the UF team forges ahead with the goal of being responsive to Terwilliger students in efforts to advance equity and excellence in their education.

For more information about this project please contact Elizabeth Bondy at