MAILED: Sept. 24, 1997|
EAU CLAIRE -- Many University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students and faculty members spent the summer relaxing, working and maybe traveling.
That's what psychology professor Bill Frankenberger and post-graduate student Lori Marx did. Well, sort of.
From Aug. 2-17, they traveled to a small New Guinea village to study and evaluate the learning disabilities of students attending Hillcrest Elementary and High School.
The schools, consisting of missionaries' children and international students, don't have school psychologists so there was no way to assess learning problems, Frankenberger said.
Nancy Contrucci, a former UW-Eau Claire faculty member who now works in the Hillcrest school, contacted Frankenberger to tell him of the situation.
"We were asked to (go to New Guinea) to evaluate child learning problems," Frankenberger said of the summer project.
After he learned the number of students he would be asked to work with, he realized he couldn't do it alone. Marx, who graduated from UW-Eau Claire in May, showed a strong interest in going, he said.
"Lori was fully qualified, fully trained and could operate as a school psychologist," Frankenberger said. "And she really wanted to do it."
"Originally, he was supposed to go by himself," Marx said of Frankenberger. "But I showed an interest so we decided to make it a research project."
The research project, she said, focused on the different criteria for learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder between students in New Guinea and students in the United States.
Marx and Frankenberger's job consisted of testing for achievement measures and intellectual abilities, administering diagnostic reading tests, and determining social and emotional problems.
Although the Hillcrest school paid travel expenses for Frankenberger, the program couldn't afford to pay for Marx. Marx and Frankenberger received a $1,500 faculty/student collaborative research grant to help fund some of her expenses.
After the 31-hour plane ride, getting used to lizards crawling up the walls and sleeping with a mosquito net over the beds, it didn't take long for Marx and Frankenberger to adjust.
"Everything was so different. But it was gorgeous," Marx said. "It was just like what you see in National Geographic."
"We got to see things that were pretty amazing," Frankenberger said.
While in the school, the researchers tested 12 students, most of whom were elementary age, talked to their teachers and met with the students' parents.
"The kids were all really wonderful," Marx said. "It was a really tight community. The parents were very supportive."
With 18-hour days being the norm, Marx and Frankenberger said they were successful in accomplishing their research goals.
"We did everything we were asked to do," Frankenberger said. "I think we were successful and happy with what we were able to do there."
"I think we gave them good information," Marx said. "They treated us well."
Marx said she wasn't ready to come home when the two weeks were over.
"I would've loved to stay. There's a lot of need for counseling over there," she said.
Frankenberger and Marx are still compiling their research, but some problems they identified seem to be universal.
"It was interesting to us to see that the percentage of learning problems there is pretty close to the percentage of learning problems here," Frankenberger said. "No group escapes having children with learning problems."
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Sept. 25, 1997