Declan Burke came to UMass Lowell as an education major to earn dual certification in elementary education and teaching students with mild to moderate disabilities.
“The resources here are unbelievable,” he says.
In his first week on campus, Burke and all of the first-year undergraduate education majors were given Chromebooks by the university, part of a pilot project to see if UMass Lowell students could use the inexpensive laptops for all of their academics. (They can.)
“We had a digital technology class where we learned to use all of these digital resources,” he says. “I got my certification as a Google educator, so that’s just been amazing.”
It also proved to be a real boon when COVID-19 put a temporary hold on field experiences in the Lowell schools, he says, since the students and teachers in the local school system all use Google education tools.
Burke is now working part-time as a virtual classroom assistant at the Lowell STEM Academy through the Pedroso Tutors program. He helps three fifth-grade students who need extra assistance in their language arts class because they are still learning English or have moderate disabilities.
“I’d been looking for an opportunity to get back into schools, and this was an awesome opportunity to do that,” he says. “The goal is to keep everyone on the same, even playing field.”
He also does his best to boost the students’ confidence. He knows what it’s like to have a disability that impedes learning or school performance, as he struggled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as a child growing up in Westwood, Massachusetts.
“Early on in elementary school, I was always getting pulled aside. You think of it as an embarrassment, because all these other students are looking at you differently,” he says. “I want to help these students realize their talents and potential.”
He works with the students on basic skills, from figuring out the virtual learning technology to managing their homework time and getting ahead on their reading. Those are the skills that teachers helped him learn, so that by the time he reached high school, he no longer needed accommodations.
Now, Burke plans to go on for his master’s degree in special education and become a special education teacher.
“Growing up, there were a lot of teachers in my life who had a huge impact on me and who made me want to give back and do the same,” he says. “Eventually, these teachers helped me realize that I could do more than I thought I could do.”