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Jamie Lentz Honored with Pearl M. Wright Award

Date: Sept. 5, 2001
Contact: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photo by Dottie Stover
Archive: Student Profiles

As early as sixth grade, University of Cincinnati education student Jamie Lentz was reaching out to children with special needs, volunteering her spare time for a program for children with disabilities. It was this dedication that led to the honor of the 2001 Pearl M. Wright Award from the University of Cincinnati College of Education. The award will provide $27,000 over a two-year-period to pay for Lentz's college-related expenses, plus housing and living costs. Jamie Lentz

The 20-year-old Lentz is a fourth year UC early childhood education major who plans to continue her graduate work in special education. The Fairfield High School graduate says that while the progress of children with special needs can move slowly, their victories are inspiring. In addition to her studies at UC, Lentz is currently working with a set of triplets who were diagnosed with autism at the age of two. They're now five years old and with expert guidance, they're beginning to learn better motor and verbal skills. "I could talk about the triplets for hours," Lentz enthused.

The Pearl M. Wright Award is considered one of the largest undergraduate merit awards at any public university in the United States. The annual award is given to the fourth-year education student who demonstrates "high moral and academic standards of a primary teacher ? who is sensitive, loving and understanding of little children." That direction is written in the will of Kathryn E. Wright, who created an endowment totaling $680,000 for the annual award named in memory of her sister. Both Clifton women graduated from the College of Education in the 1920s and dedicated their careers to educating young children. Lentz is the college's third recipient of the honor.

"The selection committee had a difficult time selecting a winner this year because of the number of strong candidates for the award," says Regina Sapona, associate dean for academic affairs. "Jamie expressed her beliefs about children and learning in an effective way, and provided documentation of her previous work with children, as did the other candidates. In addition, Jamie had a strong academic record, and as a result, the committee felt she was the most qualified for the award, based on the wording of the bequest."

Lentz grew up in a household dedicated to teaching. Her father, Ed Lentz, is a UC professor of school psychology for the College of Education. Jamie says her father's expertise has become a valuable resource as she develops her own approach in the classroom. As she watches for progress in her young students, she also wants to clear up some common misconceptions about autism. "While children in the general population learn to play and do things by example, children with autism learn differently. They need to be taught how to play, or how to verbalize.

"Also, there's a misunderstanding that children with autism are not affectionate, and that they become uncomfortable if they're touched. Children with autism are the same as anyone else. Some people want affection and some are not that demonstrative. The triplets will climb on my lap and they want hugs and kisses."

Jamie says the award will help her cut back on her work schedule to dedicate more time to her studies, but she won't be giving up any of her time with the triplets ? two girls and a boy. She adds that she wants to start her professional career in a school in Over-the-Rhine. "So many new teachers prefer to begin their careers in a more affluent suburb, but I think children in the inner-city need excellent teachers even more. When I see the progress of these children, it's just so rewarding for me."

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