Associate Professor of Special Education Dr. Katie Krammer is well known in Northeast Ohio as an expert and advocate for the special needs community. Thanks to a unique project through Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., her expertise is now making an impact all the way in Lafia, the capital city of Nasarawa State, Nigeria.
The story of Dr. Krammer’s international endeavors began with a discussion between Dr. Simon I. Guteng and His Excellency Alhaji Umaru Tanko Al-Makura, the Executive Governor of Nasarawa State.
An associate professor of education at Gallaudet, the premiere institution of learning, teaching and research for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, Dr. Guteng serves as co-founder, vice president, and a board member for the International Institute for Training, Research and Economic Development based in Abuja, Nigeria. In these roles, Dr. Guteng has been an active advocate for disability laws in Nigeria, serving as special assistant to the executive governor of Plateau State and helping to pioneer that state’s 2005 disability rights law.
Dr. Guteng’s efforts in Nigeria put him in contact with Governor Al-Makura, who happens to be deaf himself and has a cochlear implant. The duo’s shared philosophy of inclusivity led them to conceptualize the Comprehensive Special School, a one-stop K-12 government-supported institution of learning to be based in Lafia, Nasarawa State. Specifically, they sought to create an educational establishment geared toward all people who are deaf or hard of hearing, have visual, physical or developmental disabilities, or have autism spectrum disorders.
To make their vision a reality, Dr. Guteng and Governor Al-Makura launched a preliminary needs assessment under the direction of S.G. International, LLC, a U.S. company offering international professional development training and research to developing countries. Dr. Guteng, who is President/CEO of S.G. International as well, set out to assemble a team of professionals with the best formal educational and professional training in teaching students with physical, visual and developmental disabilities.
Enter: Dr. Katie Krammer. In addition to her extensive involvement with special needs education and advocacy in Ohio, Dr. Krammer has served as an online instructor for Gallaudet University since 2011, teaching most of the University’s courses in their online Educating Deaf Students with Disabilities Graduate Certificate Program. Dr. Krammer holds an A.A. in education sign language interpreting, B.S. in elementary education, M.S. in special education and Ph.D. in special education, all from the University of Kansas, making her especially qualified for the project’s dream team.
Dr. Guteng knew of Dr. Krammer's expertise by way of her good friend and colleague Dr. Raschelle Neild, a fellow professor at Gallaudet who also graduated from KU and with whom Dr. Krammer has collaborated many times over the years. Dr. Neild suggested Dr. Krammer serve as a consultant for the school's curriculum for students who are deaf, hard-of-hearing or have Autism, specifically. Once offered, Dr. Krammer accepted the role and began work as a consultant in the summer of 2017, expecting the project to extend for the foreseeable future.
Fast forward to February. The morning of Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, Dr. Krammar received a call from Dr. Guteng asking if she could travel to Nigeria that Saturday for a special ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday, Feb. 6. The ceremony would be directed by President Muhammadu Buhari, Grand Star of the Order of the Federal Republic (GSFR) and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. According to Dr. Guteng, President Buhari requested all team members behind the Comprehensive Special School be present for the school’s official commissioning.
“Simon’s request caught me completely off guard,” said Dr. Krammer, recounting the whirlwind of expedited visa applications, vaccinations and travel coordination that unfolded over the next two days. “At the end of the day I couldn’t say no to this once in a lifetime opportunity.”
By Saturday evening, Dr. Krammer had begun 25 straight hours of travel involving flights from Cleveland to D.C., D.C. to Ethiopia, and Ethiopia to Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria. From there, she and the rest of the team traveled by car to Lafia with an armed Nigerian escort and members of a documentary crew, ultimately staying at the governor’s hotel.
Tuesday’s ribbon cutting ceremony took place as part of a one-day presidential visit to Nasarawa State organized by Governor Al-Makura, Deputy-Governor Silas Ali Agara and other Nigerian government officials. The program included remarks from the Honorable Commissioner of Special Education, Science and Technology, Professor Jonathan Mamu Ayuba; the Honorable Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu; Governor Al-makura; and President Buhari. Opening prayers, a cultural performance, and multiple recitations of the Nigerian national anthem made it a culturally immersive experience for the visiting team.
“The Lafia Comprehensive Special School is a demonstration of our collective ambition to uplift the standard of living of all Nigerians through social investment policies,” stated President Buhari in his official remarks. “This school…is a clear example of our inclusive policy where no child, man or woman will be left behind.”
“This is a well-thought out initiative to give hope to a key segment of the society that has been ignored and neglected by previous governments,” he continued. “We must help our disabled to contribute to their development and self-reliance.”
At the ceremony, Dr. Krammer found herself speaking with a man in a suit who turned out to be the United States Ambassador to Nigeria. “The whole experience was surreal,” she said. “It was exciting to see our work being put into action.”
The following day, Dr. Krammer and the rest of the team toured the school to make note of what other resources and professional development opportunities they would recommend for the project. While the school is extremely progressive among those available in Nigeria, the resources currently at hand stood in stark contrast to those in the United States, especially given the school’s intent to accommodate over 1,000 students from states across Nigeria.
“It was unsettling to visit rooms that have smart boards but no electricity, for example,” noted Dr. Krammer. “My hope is that basic resources like electricity, water and adequate staffing advance as the school continues to find its foundation and evolve.”
After three nights in Nigeria, Dr. Krammer was on her way back to Ohio. Though physically and emotionally intense, she notes she would not trade her experience for the world.
“This trip was a life-changing, eye-opening experience,” she said. “I’m honored to have been asked to consult with this project and am amazed by the progressive mindset of leaders like Governor Al-Makura. I look forward to continuing to work with the Comprehensive Special School as it progresses.”
Dr. Krammer is the co-founder of the Lake/Geauga County Autism Support Group, the recipient of the 2017 Milestones Parent Tribute Award, and the faculty member behind LEC’s fully online Mild-Moderate Intervention Specialist Licensure program and undergraduate license programs. She serves as a contact to local families going through the autism diagnosis process, sits on various advisory boards, and is herself the parent of two young sons with autism, Trey and Quinn.
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