May 22, 2023

On Friday, May 19, 23 staff from The New England Center for Children (NECC) received their Master of Science in Education with an autism specialization designation degree from Simmons University during their 2023 Commencement. 

During the ceremony, several NECC staff graduating with their master’s degrees were also recognized with special awards for their exceptional work in the graduate program.

Linda Lawton, an Intensive Instruction Program (IIP) teacher, won the Kennedy Family Award. According to Simmons, the Kennedy Award is presented “in recognition for leadership with children with disabilities and their families, the ability to make a difference in people’s lives, the ability to enhance Simmons’ leadership and example in special education, and demonstration of academic excellence.”

Four NECC/Simmons graduates were recognized with the Autism Specialization Award, which is presented to teacher candidates who demonstrate exemplary teaching skills with the ability to successfully differentiate instruction for diverse learners with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The recipients of this award possess a talent for designing and implementing individualized academic and behavioral programs, utilizing principles of applied behavior analysis and evidence-based practices.

  • Amanda Benson, IIP
  • Rachel McCormack, Ursla Drive
  • Tori Rieger, IIP
  • Elizabeth Stikeman, Public School Services (PSS), Derry, NH

Three graduating NECC staff received the Douglas Eli Schuch Award at the Simmons commencement, which is presented to students “concentrating in education or human services who through course work, practica, and extra-curricular activities have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the social and educational integration of citizens with special needs into the mainstream of today’s schools and society.”

  • Alex Heggie, Adapted Physical Education (APE)/IIP
  • Melody Owens, IIP
  • Amy Sparkes, PSS, Chelmsford, MA

The full list of NECC staff who graduated from the Simmons University program are:

Amanda Benson, IIP Cohort A

Fatima Covas, IIP Cohort G

Kara Dicruttalo, ITT 3

Stephanie Dryden, IIP Cohort E

Emily Field, IIP Cohort A

Cailee Gazard, ITT 4

Kevin Glick, IIP Cohort E

Alex Heggie, APE/IIP 

Karuu Kamau, Westborough 1

Meaghan Kane, Residential Coordinator, ITT 4

Linda Lawton, IIP Cohort G

Noelle Lofria, PSS-Derry

Kelsey Lynch, Saddle Hill Road

Connie Ma, Salem End Road

Tessa May, ITT 1

Rachel McCormack, Ursla Drive

Melody Owens, IIP Cohort E

Tori Rieger, IIP Cohort A

Kaitlyn Rotchford, IIP Cohort E

Kayla Smith, ITT 3

Amy Sparkes, PSS- Chelmsford

Elizabeth Stikeman, PSS- Derry

Jasper Suhr, Residential Coordinator, New Castle Road

One of NECC’s core values is to train and develop the next generation of autism educators and researchers. For 30 years, NECC and Simmons have collaborated to offer graduate training to NECC employees. All courses are taught on-site at NECC in Southborough and provide staff practical training and experience, enabling them to have a wide variety of job offers in both public schools and private agencies upon completion of the program. Since 1992, more than 1,200 NECC staff have completed the master’s degree program.  For more information, visit the program page.