National Academy of Sports Medicine Announces New Certified Wellness Program to Support Overall Mental and Physical Growth

New program fuses innovation with evidence-based strategies, empowering coaches to create a holistic health and wellness experience.

The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), a global leader in fitness certifications, has announced its newest program, Certified Wellness Coach (NASM-CWC). The 100 percent online program will integrate state-of-the-art tools with expert guidance backed by a deep understanding of nutrition, fitness, recovery, mindfulness and meditation – equipping fitness professionals and health & wellness enthusiasts with the knowledge and resources to help others live healthier and happier lives.

“As a forward-thinking company, we are constantly striving to address the current and future goals of our community,” said Laurie McCartney, President of NASM. “It was important to our team to develop a one-of-a-kind program that presents many real-world scenarios. NASM-CWC empowers coaches with key insights and evidence-based tools to better position clients for optimal wellbeing in order to live a balanced and fulfilling life.”

NASM developed the CWC program to equip individuals with the necessary tools and knowledge to create and maintain physical and emotional well-being. The new program takes a two-tiered approach; educating individuals on the key components of wellness while providing innovative coaching strategies at every level.

“The NASM-CWC program provides a holistic approach to common life challenges,” said Jaime Tartar, Psychology Professor and Research Director at Nova Southeastern University who was part of the team of experts that developed the program with NASM. “Many individuals struggle with maintaining a proper exercise and nutrition regime, which then leads to increased stress levels and an overall poor physical and mental state. Certified Wellness Coaches are able to identify these barriers and set customized goals based on all the pillars that support optimal health and wellbeing.”

In addition to providing in-depth knowledge across five focus areas; movement, nutrition, mental & emotional wellbeing, regeneration & recovery, and coaching, the CWC program works to equip the Certified Wellness Coach with a broad range of strategies and perspectives. The evidence-based program focuses on providing a deeper understanding of fitness and nutrition, something other health coach programs do not provide. The wellness coach functions as the hub that connects all aspects of health, fitness, and wellness.

For more information about Certified Wellness Coach, click here.

About NASM: The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) is a global leader in fitness education and certifications. Building on over 34 years of expertise, NASM programs create a roadmap for fitness professionals to help their clients achieve better physical and mental performance in athletics and everyday life. NASM provides an industry-first training system, with the Optimum Performance Training (OPT™) model, creating robust courses and content based solely on scientific, evidence-based research. NASM has educated over 1.3 million fitness professionals in over 80 countries, creating a global space for optimal wellbeing and fitness.

Ascend Learning Named One of Phoenix Business Journal’s 2021 Best Places to Work

Ascend Learning continues to be an innovator in the fitness industry, creating a positive work culture for its employees and stakeholders.

GILBERT Ariz., December 21, 2021 — Ascend Learning, the leading provider of integrated learning solutions which includes three Phoenix-based fitness and wellness brands, was recently named one of Phoenix Business Journal’s best places to work among midsize companies. Over 100 honorees were awarded during a celebratory program sponsored by the Phoenix Business Journal and CornerStone Staffing.

Ascend Learning’s fitness and wellness brands are the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), the Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) and ClubConnect, LLC. Headquartered in Gilbert, AZ, these industry-leading brands provide training and certifications to millions of fitness and wellness professionals around the world while providing ongoing learning opportunities to their program graduates.

“For a second year in a row, we are honored to accept this award and recognize our teams as they maintain a positive work culture while navigating a global pandemic,” said Laurie McCartney, President of Fitness & Wellness for Ascend Learning. “We are dedicated to finding creative and innovative solutions that enable fitness and wellness professionals to continue the important work of making the world a healthier and happier place.”

The employees at NASM, AFAA and ClubConnect produce and support some of the world’s most respected certifications and continuing education courses, including a new Certified Wellness Coach program that provides evidence-based knowledge and tools to help improve physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

Ascend Learning and other awarded companies will be recognized in the December edition of the Phoenix Business Journal.

About Ascend Learning:

Ascend Learning is a leading provider of online educational content, simulation, software and analytics serving students, educational institutions and employers. With products that span the learning continuum, Ascend Learning focuses on high-growth careers in a range of industries, with a special focus on healthcare and other high-growth, licensure-driven professions. Ascend Learning products, from testing to certification, are used by frontline healthcare workers, physicians, emergency medical professionals, nurses, certified personal trainers, group fitness instructors, financial advisors, skilled trades professionals and insurance brokers. For information on career opportunities at Ascend Learning, visit

About NASM:

The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) is a global leader in fitness education and certifications. Building on over 34 years of expertise, NASM programs create a roadmap for fitness professionals to help their clients achieve better physical and mental performance in athletics and everyday life. NASM provides an industry-first training system, with the Optimum Performance Training (OPT™) model, creating robust courses and content based solely on scientific, evidence-based research. NASM has educated over 1.3 million fitness professionals in over 80 countries, creating a global space for optimal wellbeing and fitness. Learn more at

About AFAA:

The Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) has led the way in certifying group fitness and personal trainers for over 35 years. AFAA pioneered the first nationally standardized guidelines for fitness professionals and has educated over 350,000 instructors and trainers in 73 countries. AFAA’s Group Fitness Instructor Program is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). Learn more at

About ClubConnect:

With products and services supporting over 8,000 health clubs and gyms across the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the Middle East. ClubConnect is the market leader in health club software, supporting gym employee onboarding, educational development, and credential verification. Learn more at

Advanced Practice Education Associates (APEA) joins ATI, poised to serve nursing programs with entry-level to advanced-practice tracks.

Nurse Practitioner (NP) employment expected to grow 5.2% annually during the next ten years; ATI poised to accelerate NP development and certification 

Advanced Practice Education Associates (APEA) has joined ATI Nursing Education, who will continue providing industry-leading learning tools for nurse practitioners (NP) and nurse practitioner students, similar to ATI’s focus on undergraduate nursing students.  

“APEA positions us to support even more nursing students and helps us meet increasing demand for nurse practitioners (NPs) who can help fill the growing primary care provider gap,” said Sean Burke, Sean Burke, President of Healthcare at Ascend Learning, who leads ATI Nursing Education. “APEA is committed to successfully preparing graduate students for their certification exams with outstanding content, assessments, and instruction. Together with ATI Nursing Education, we can serve nursing students across PN, RN, and APRN scopes-of-practice. We’re very excited for this expansion of our mission to drive nursing success.”  

Demand for NPs is booming, with the profession expected to grow 5.2% annually between 2019 and 2029. The United States has 325,000 licensed NPs, and another 36,000 NP students graduate every year. The shortage of primary care physicians has elevated the importance of NPs and the role they play in delivering healthcare nationwide.  

“The similarities in mission and values between our two firms, combined with ATI’s success in undergraduate nursing and APEA’s complementary success in advanced practice nursing, convinced us that they are the right partner to continue growing APEA,” said Amelie Hollier, APEA co-founder, president and CEO. 

Hollier formed APEA in 1997 with Co-Founder Jeanie Doucet to provide high-quality certification tools for graduate NP students and later, continuing education and clinical resources for certified NPs already in practice. APEA has helped more than 157,000 new NPs pass national certification exams and certified NPs reach professional development goals. 

Both ATI and APEA offer standardized predictive assessments, live review, question banks, curriculum supplements and other tools designed to teach all the different ways people learn. ATI serves undergraduate nursing students, and APEA targets graduate NP students – all of whom achieve higher pass rates and greater success when they leverage our resources. 

“We’re honored to join forces with ATI,” said Doucet, vice president and chief operating officer at APEA. “They have nurses in nearly every department and level of the organization, which underscores their passion for and commitment to the profession. Plus, we’re aligned on our understanding of the market and what nursing programs need to succeed.” 

About ATI Nursing Education 

ATI is the leading provider of online learning programs for improving faculty effectiveness, as well as student and program outcomes in nursing schools across the country. ATI maintains a 97 percent client-retention rate based on providing consistently reliable delivery of high-quality assessment, remediation and educational products. As of 2021, ATI Nursing Education works with 20,000+ nurse educators, about 2,700 colleges and universities and more than 500,000 students, plus more than 1.3 million graduates. The business began in 1998 with the help of a nurse. Today, nurses remain a valued part of its staff, with a team of 230 nurse educators, as well as nearly a dozen psychometric professionals who specialize in educational products, test development and statistical methods. 

To learn more about ATI, visit

About APEA 

Advanced Practice Education Associates (APEA) was established in 1997 to meet the need for high-quality certification preparation tools for new nurse practitioners. From this foundational step, APEA grew to encompass continuing education and clinical resources for experienced NPs. Co-founders Amelie Hollier and Jeanie Doucet have focused their business on providing relatable, relevant education using the most effective learning techniques, and on creating and producing innovative clinical tools and resources. APEA has equipped thousands of new nurse practitioners to pass the national certification exams and is committed to the success and professional development of nurse practitioners throughout the United States. 

To learn more about APEA, visit   

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Active IQ wins Exporter of the Year Award

Ascend Learning brand Active IQ has been recognized as Exporter of the Year Award at the sixth annual FAB 2021 Awards, organized by the Federation of Awarding Bodies, the trade association representing the collective interests of the UK’s qualifications and assessments industry.  The ‘Exporter of the Year’ award recognizes the success of an organization’s exports and international business.

The FAB 2021 Awards recognize the contributions made by awarding organizations and their employees to education and skills in the UK over the past year. The winners were announced on Thursday November 11th at the FAB 2021 Awards dinner, sponsored by Creatio, at the end of the first day of the FAB Conference at the Marriott Hotel in Leicester.

“We are absolutely delighted to win the Exporter of the Year Award and to have our international work recognised by this prestigious judging panel,” says Jenny Patrickson, Active IQ Managing Director. “I would like to thank and congratulate our international team for their exemplary work overseas, including their groundbreaking success in Saudi Arabia by training and recruiting Saudi women instructors in partnership with Spectrum® Wellness for Women. Alongside this, they completed the translation of our course materials and supporting resources into Arabic and Egyptian which is helping to cement our presence in the Middle East.”

Laurie McCartney, president of Ascend’s fitness & wellness segment, added “This distinguished award is a testament to Active IQ’s commitment to delivering the industry’s best qualifications and the highest level of customer service around the world. We are very proud of the team.”

For more information on Active IQ and the FAB Awards, click here.

About Active IQ
Active IQ is one of the UK’s leading awarding brands for the active leisure, learning and wellbeing sector, Active IQ designs qualifications that support clearly defined career pathways for the active leisure sector. Active IQ prides itself on excellent customer service and strives to provide high quality teaching and learning resources for its qualifications to enable providers to give a positive learning experience which includes a broad suite of products and services, including eLearning, apprenticeship packages, end-point assessment, professional recognition and professional career development opportunities.

Cultural Connection: Recognizing Veterans Day with Mark Williamson

Veterans Day originated as “Armistice Day” on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I. Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance, and Nov. 11 became a national holiday beginning in 1938. Unlike Memorial Day, Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans — living or dead — but especially gives thanks to living veterans who served their country honorably during war or peacetime.

To continue our commitment to our values and promote a culture of inclusion — and to commemorate Veterans Day, the Ascend communications team spoke with Mark Williamson, director of talent acquisition and compliance, who shared a wonderfully detailed experience of his time serving in the U.S. Navy and its lasting influence in his personal and professional life.

Whether you are part of our team at Ascend Learning, a family member, loved one, colleague or peer — we want to express our heartfelt gratitude to all veterans for your sacrifice and service.

Ascend Comms (AC): Tell us about your role at Ascend Learning.
Mark Williamson (MW): My title is director of talent acquisition and compliance. I oversee our recruiting and talent acquisition efforts; plus, I help ensure that how we pursue and engage talent adheres to OFCCP laws [Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs]. It’s important to make sure both of those pieces [talent acquisition and compliance] are talking to each other.

AC: How did you get into this field?
MW: I actually served in the U.S. Navy for 10 years as a surface warfare officer (SWO), and during my last tour in the Navy, I recruited doctors, dentists, nurses and other health care professionals for the Navy. I went through recruiting training and a professional selling skills course to learn how to prospect, overcome objections and close a sale, so to speak, when recruiting talent for the Navy. I’d served in other roles and knew that a recruiting role might expose me to some things that I could translate into a career in corporate America.  

AC: What was your path into the Navy?
MW: My father was an enlisted [airman] in the Air Force in the 1950s for four years and transitioned into a career working for the VA hospital. That wasn’t necessarily the [main] influence, but I grew up with a certain order and discipline I think came naturally from his experience.

More specifically, there was a Navy ROTC unit [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps] at my high school in Aiken, S.C., led by Griggs Wheeler, a 1954 Naval Academy graduate and retired Navy captain. He sought me out the first week of high school and said, “I heard you were coming to the high school, and if what I’ve heard about you is true — you’ve been a straight A student, you come from a great family, and you’re involved in church and in the community — I think you could really be a great candidate for the Naval Academy.”

He made me a promise that if I joined his ROTC unit, he would be my personal mentor and help me make all the right moves to get into the academy. I talked it over with my parents and we saw that it was a good path to be set up for success and a unique opportunity to be guided by someone who’s been through the process. Long story short — Capt. Wheeler made his promise and helped me get into the academy, and I graduated and became a Naval officer.

AC: How did he help you in your journey toward the Naval Academy?
MW: To get into the one of the [military] academies, you’re required to get a congressional nomination. With his encouragement and guidance, I applied and was accepted into the page program in Washington, D.C. I worked in Senator Strom Thurman’s office for a summer and got my congressional nomination. Capt. Wheeler also taught me about taking initiative and helped me become a well-rounded individual — because the academies want smart, caring people who are active in the community and in extracurriculars. They look at the whole person.

AC: Have you kept in touch with Capt. Wheeler?
MW: We do [keep in touch]. He’s 90 years old and lives in Florida, and I check in with him about every six months. He’s one of the greatest people and influences I’ve ever encountered.

AC: Where else did your career in the Navy take you?
MW: Prior to attending the academy in Annapolis, Md., I went to the [Naval Academy] Prep School in Newport, R.I., a 10-month program designed to strengthen your academics. Once I was in the academy, I spent summers on ships going to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Curaçao; on a submarine in Kings Bay, Ga.; flying T-34 mentor planes out of Pensacola, Fla.; and training with the Marines at The Basic School in Quantico, Va.

Post-academy, I went to the Surface Warfare Officers School and Diesel Engineering School back in Newport, followed by Chemical, Biological and Radiological Warfare School in Anniston, Ala., all in preparation for my first assignment as a DCA [damage control assistant], which is essentially is the person who oversees the effort to save a ship if it were ever damaged [in action]. My first ship was out of Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, where I was on an LST (landing ship, tank), an amphibian ship that carried about 200 crew and 300 Marines.

I was on that ship for two years, during which time I did a Southeast Pacific cruise and visited about 18 countries, including Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Kingdom of Tonga. After that, I was on a newly commissioned aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. John C. Stennis, which did an around-the-world homeport shift from Norfolk, Va., to San Diego.

I flew from Honolulu to Bahrain, where I waited for the Stennis to get close enough for me to fly onto the flight deck in a mail plane. We stayed in the Persian Gulf for about 30 days, then to Hawaii and finally to San Diego — and that was my time at sea. Following that tour, I went back to my home state, where I was a recruiter until I transitioned out of the Navy.

AC: What was it like transitioning from military to civilian and professional life?
MW: I’d gotten engaged [and eventually married] and determined that I really didn’t want to live a life at sea with the family back home. I met my wife when I was a midshipman in Annapolis. She’s from San Antonio and had enlisted in the Navy with her older sister — who waited a year after high school graduation so they could go to boot camp together — and became a hospital corpsman. She and I decided I would transition out because the recruiting role might expose me to some things that I could translate into a career in corporate America, and I was fortunate enough that there were some opportunities that seemed to be synergistic with the path I’d chosen.

The first opportunity was with a company called Perot Systems, an IT services company started by H. Ross Perot, a former presidential candidate who also was a former Naval officer and Naval Academy graduate. Perot Systems’ chief human resources officer [at the time] was a West Point graduate who was looking for someone with the right experience to revamp their military recruiting program — that is, former military members who had recently transitioned out or active duty [members] soon to become civilians — so my military network really came into play. I led both military and college recruiting for about four years.

AC: How has your military experience had an impact on your family life?
MW: The thing I try to show our kids most is the military teaches you to be calm under pressure and make good decisions, and I try to live my life that way. I didn’t want to push something on my kids just because I liked it. I wanted to make sure it was something they wanted to do.

About a year ago, our 18-year-old daughter applied and was accepted into the Naval Academy Summer Seminar program, and subsequently applied and was accepted into both the Naval Academy Prep School and the Air Force Academy. She chose the Navy prep school and is now in Newport, going through the same 10-month program that I went through 30 years ago.

Our 15-year-old son recently went through an exercise through a school program called AVID [Advancement via Individual Determination] and brought a form to guide a discussion about college. During that conversation, he revealed that his first choice is the Naval Academy, followed by the Air Force Academy, or anything with an ROTC program — so it sounds like we might have another one who walks that similar path three years from now.

AC: Do you stay connected to any of your fellow servicemen or servicewomen?
MW: My best friends in the world are all friends I made at the [Naval Academy] prep school and at the Naval Academy. These are the men and women that are instrumental in my life to this day. We talk every week on the phone and go on vacations together. They’ve also influenced my kids in a big way because they [my kids] see that they started from the same place and endured the same experiences — and the natural fiber that makes up every one of them.

AC: What are ways people can show appreciation for veterans’ service?
MW: We are very appreciative of people who say, “thank you for your service,” but it’s also not necessary. This is a voluntary service — we all decided to go that path. I’m doing ok in life, but there are a lot of people who aren’t. I still worry about those shipmates out there who might not be doing so well. Give people words of encouragement. Do what you can to build them up. You never know what someone has gone through or is going through. The mantra in the Navy is “ship, shipmates, self,” meaning the Navy comes first, then your peers, and then yourself.

Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us. Is there anything else you wish to share for the benefit of the community?
We have a number of veterans at Ascend who have all walked different paths and have done some cool and amazing things. As we mature as an organization, we’re looking at potentially formalizing a veteran recruiting program [in the future] so that we have a smooth path for veterans — including those with disabilities — to come into Ascend.

We don’t just want to look at one set of [characteristics]. We really are trying to be a diverse organization. Not all talent needs to look the same or be the same. If you’ve got someone who genuinely has great skills and could contribute, we would love to hear from you.

ATI and Swift River join to make practice-ready nurses top priority as Next Generation NCLEX approaches

ATI Nursing Education announced Swift River Online Learning will join the ATI portfolio, adding its Virtual Clinicals solution to ATI’s set of learning tools built specifically for nursing students and nurse educators, to help them master core nursing knowledge and develop their clinical judgment.

The result will be a complementary set of tools for nursing programs who are faced with not just preparing students to join a workforce challenged by a lingering pandemic, but also planning for a revolutionary change to nursing’s entry-level licensing exam that could either ensure a steady flow of new nurses to the profession – or interrupt the supply at a time when they’re needed most.

The new licensing exam, referred to as “Next Generation NCLEX,” is scheduled to launch April 2023. It will feature new question types and new scoring methods designed to better assess students’ clinical judgment (their ability to recognize and analyze changes in a patient’s condition, develop hypotheses on the right course of action, then implement those actions and monitor the result).

“I made the decision (to join ATI) based on its quality assessments and the insights those tests bring to educators and students. I believe no other company assesses nursing knowledge and predicts NCLEX success better than ATI. And when I saw the bold steps ATI has taken to align their assessments to NCSBN’s clinical judgment model, I knew ATI was the right partner. With ATI, we’ll be able to reach more schools and students and, ultimately, benefit more patients,” said Dan Moreschi, Founder of Swift River Online Learning.

With Swift River joining ATI, nursing programs will have complementary tools to help students prepare for Next Generation NCLEX and become practice-ready nurses. Nursing programs and students have used ATI’s assessments to gain insights into students’ mastery of nursing knowledge and their likelihood of passing NCLEX for more than 20 years. Swift River’s Virtual Clinicals provide more than 500 unique unfolding case studies that hone students’ clinical judgment, with a special emphasis on prioritization and delegation skills.

“Next Generation NCLEX is all about improving students’ clinical judgment to ensure they’re truly practice-ready when they earn their license. Improving any skill or competency requires a valid way to assess it, and the opportunity to practice it. ATI and Swift River together make it easy for nursing programs to do both,” said Sean Burke, President of ATI Nursing Education and Ascend Healthcare.


When nursing students’ clinical judgment is stronger, they develop into a practice-ready nurse faster. This means a nurse can adjust to the speed and stress of real-life practice and make sound decisions for their patients. Moreschi saw the need for better clinical judgment and practice-ready nurses first-hand after working as a nurse and nurse administrator for more than 40 years. In particular, he saw a need to address two concepts in particular: prioritization and delegation.

“Prioritization and delegation are essential skills for new nurses. As a nursing student you were probably responsible for one or two patients during clinicals. When that nursing student steps onto the hospital floor as a licensed nurse, they’ll have three- or four-times that number, and they’ll all need things at the same time. Knowing how to prioritize your actions and enlist other members of the healthcare team through delegation will keep that nurse from becoming overwhelmed – and will keep patients safe,” said Moreschi.

Moreschi continued, “It’s just very difficult for nursing students to gain that kind of experience during clinicals, and I saw an opportunity to use technology to give students a safe space to experience what it is like to have competing demands on their attention while performing a critical task, like drawing and passing meds.” 

“From our very first discussions it was evident that ATI and Swift River share a purpose of developing safe, practice-ready nursing professionals.  After becoming familiar with the Virtual Clinicals solution, we immediately saw how we can add value to students and educators by working together,” said Sean Burke, President of ATI Nursing Education and Ascend Healthcare.

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About ATI Nursing Education
ATI is the leading provider of online learning programs for improving faculty effectiveness and student and program outcomes in nursing schools across the country. ATI maintains a 97 percent client-retention rate based on providing consistently reliable delivery of high-quality assessment, remediation, and educational products. Currently, ATI Nursing Education works with 20,000+ nurse educators, about 2,700 colleges and universities, and more than 500,000 students, plus more than 1.3 million graduates. The business began in 1998 with the help of a nurse. Today, nurses remain a valued part of its staff, with a team of 230 nurse educators, as well as nearly a dozen psychometric professionals who specialize in educational products, test development, and statistical methods.

To learn more about ATI, visit

About Swift River

Swift River creates Virtual Clinical solutions that are based on the educational learning theory of Kiili’s Experiential Gaming Model and the Experiential Learning Model developed by David Kolb. Each Virtual Clinical provides the student or clinical nurse —and the instructor or nurse manager — with an evaluation of each simulation and the cumulative composite scores and recorded times. These allow the student/nurse and his or her instructor/manager to evaluate the progress and determine an individual’s standing among classmates or colleagues. The skills learned working with these clinical products are easily transferred to other nursing settings for both the student and clinical nurse.

To learn more about Swift River, visit

Cultural Connection: Celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month with Kelly Von Lunen

The U.S. Department of Labor observes October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month to commemorate the many and varied contributions of people with disabilities to America’s workplaces and economy.

To continue our commitment to our values and promote a culture of inclusion, the Ascend communications team spoke with Kelly Von Lunen, managing editor in shared services, who provided an insightful reminder to approach life from a person-first perspective — and the importance of understanding and appreciating the lived experiences of others.

Ascend Communications (AC): Tell us about your role at Ascend.

Kelly Von Lunen (KVL): I’m the managing editor within learning products. I’ve been here almost 10 years and work on a team with copy and developmental editors helping create print and online products for two of Ascend’s brands — ATI and NHA. I also serve as a member of our internal Diversity & Inclusion Council and am working on my master’s [degree] right now, focusing on diversity and inclusion in higher education.

AC: How did you become interested in diversity, equity, and inclusion?

KVL: Being an individual who is hard of hearing, it’s very personal to me. There’s a very strong Deaf community specifically for people who are manual language first — but not for people like me, who are hard of hearing but also don’t fit in Deaf culture.

There’s kind of a middle ground for people who might have an invisible illness [a medical condition that is not outwardly visible to others] but are expected to perform at an abled level. There’s a kind of normativity that everyone is fully able unless they strongly show you otherwise.

AC: We recently learned about the complexity of identity among Hispanic, Latino/a and Latinx communities in a conversation with [Ascend Learning Director of Talent Development & Inclusion] Carolyn Vasquez, who shared that self-identification is a personal decision based on one’s own lived experiences. Would you say that same concept is applicable to people with disabilities?

KVL: I think that that self-identification is really important, and sometimes forget that people view me as disabled. If I [were to] take out my hearing aids, I would be functionally deaf — but I’m not part of the Deaf community. Even though I am a hard of hearing person, that is not a key part of my identity.

I’m 36 and I’ve worn hearing aids since I was four. I don’t know what the [official] line is between hard of hearing and deaf, but there’s a distinction between Deaf with a capital D and deaf with a lowercase d.

[Editor’s Note: According to the National Association of the Deaf, Deaf with a capital D refers to a particular group of deaf people who share a language — American Sign Language (ASL) — and a culture. When spelled with a lowercase d, deaf refers to the audiological condition of not hearing].

AC: You mentioned this journey began for you at a young age. What was that like?

KVL: The thought has always been that something happened after I started to talk, but my hearing loss was diagnosed when I was four. My parents noticed that I would grab people’s faces to make them look at me and I would sit really close to the TV. At the time, schools didn’t offer a hybrid experience for students with hearing loss. You had to either pick a [mainstream] school or a school for the deaf — who told me my hearing was too high-functioning [to attend school there]. My parents took me to an audiologist, who had a similar viewpoint — they said, “Why is she here? She talks fine.”

AC: Can you trace your hearing loss to an event or experience?

KVL: Not an event or experience, but likely genetics, because my five-year-old son is having a similar experience [with his hearing]. I took him to an audiologist, and it was nearly the same experience as my own — the initial response was, “why is he here?” But they put him through the hearing test and discovered hearing loss.

AC: How did that feel having your son’s experience mirror your own?

KVL: It’s hard for me not to project my own experience on my child, but he’s going to have a different experience than I am. We’re in a different school district and in a different economic situation than I had growing up. Technology has progressed a lot in 30 years and the world has changed to be more accepting in a lot of ways — so that’s exciting — but it’s also exhausting to know that on some level I will need to continue to advocate not only for myself, but for him, too.

AC: How has being hard of hearing influenced your professional life? 

KVL: Working as an editor [at Ascend], I focus and try to keep a good pulse on person-first language. We have made a lot of strides in the past 10 years to improve that, reducing or removing a lot of biased language from educational materials. It’s important to have a person-first approach in everything.

Speaking from my own experience, I simply ask for what I need in a professional setting. It’s important for me that people turn on their cameras because seeing their face(s) and being able to lip read greatly enhances my ability to understand and interpret what they’re saying. I’ve been fortunate that the people I work with directly are all very understanding and accommodating, as are many of the people I meet with.

AC: How can folks be more accommodating towards people with hearing loss?

KVL: If somebody doesn’t hear you, don’t assume that they didn’t understand it. They just need you to repeat it one more time, and if you can, repeat it the exact same way instead of rephrasing. For me, I’ve already got this “Wheel of Fortune” puzzle in my brain right now with about 60% of the information, and I’m working to fill in the other pieces. If you rephrase what you said, I have to start over. If that still isn’t working, then try rephrasing yourself.

AC: Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us. Your perspective and experience have been so enlightening, and we look forward to sharing it with others.

KVL: Thanks for the opportunity. Disabilities are not monolithic, and people experience things in different ways. It’s important to be able to connect with people and hear about their lived experiences.


Five Tips to Communicating with People with Hearing Loss

Combining tips and resources from the Hearing Loss Association of America and the Association for the Study of Higher Education, here is a helpful guide on how to communicate and host meetings with people who have hearing loss.

  1. Speak clearly, distinctly and at normal speed unless asked to slow down. Use a normal tone unless you are asked to raise your voice.
  2. Speak expressively and provide a clear view of your mouth so lip reading is possible. Because persons who are deaf or hard of hearing [sometimes] cannot hear subtle changes in tone, which may indicate sarcasm or seriousness, many will rely on your facial expressions, gestures, and body language to understand you.
  3. If you are having trouble understanding the speech of a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, feel free to ask them to repeat. If that does not work, then use a paper and pen.
  4. Meeting Tip: Provide agenda items, background materials and names of attendees in writing in advance. If meeting in person, provide seating so that the person with hearing loss has their back to any windows and sits as close to the main speaker as possible.
  5. Meeting Tip: Background noise, music, cross-conversations, reverberation, and distance from the speaker all contribute to a difficult listening environment. Ensure that subtitles and/or the meeting transcript are enabled for all users. Ask what can be done to make hearing easier.

FACTS Education and Kognito Partner to Help Educators Support Student Mental Health

FACTS Education Solutions, a provider of K-12 professional development and instructional services and Kognito, a leading health simulations company, announced a partnership to help private and faith-based schools address student mental health related to the fallout of COVID-19.

Through this new partnership, FACTS Ed customers now have the opportunity to access several Kognito simulations to support school climate, safety, and wellness. Educators, staff, students, parents, and caregivers can gain knowledge and skills surrounding critical topics including emotional and mental wellness, trauma, social emotional learning, substance use, and coping with loss.

A FACTS Ed facilitator will guide educators through simulations either on-site or online, and facilitate conversations surrounding the experience to help ensure they are getting the most out of the training. This holistic and tailored approach combines the power of Kognito’s evidence-based simulations with FACTS Ed private sector expertise and hands-on, personalized services to best prepare learners to meet the needs of today’s students.

“Enhancing our professional learning portfolio with Kognito content – which is proven to impact the lives of students and educators – directly aligns with our mission at FACTS Ed. We couldn’t be more pleased about bringing the programs and services to our school partners,” said Tiffany Wilbur, Manager of Educator Services at FACTS Ed.

During the 2020-2021 school year to date, nearly 24,000 teachers and leaders at private and faith-based schools have participated in 370 live and on-demand professional learning and development events. Kognito’s role-play simulations have been deployed by more than 13,000 schools and districts, but the power of its role-play experiences has yet to be fully harnessed by the private sector. This new partnership will enable private institutions to rapidly build the capacity of educators and students to lead real-life conversations that can improve student mental health, academic performance, and school safety.

Student mental health and the mounting anxiety related to COVID-19 is a huge concern among educators and administrators. A Reuters survey found that 74% of districts reported multiple indicators of increased mental health stresses among students since the onset of the pandemic. Educators are on the front lines, and because they see students on a regular basis, they are uniquely positioned to identify those who may be struggling, and when necessary, connect them to support.

Unfortunately, research shows that although students at private schools need support surrounding mental health and substance use, they aren’t currently getting that support. A quantitative survey published in “Frontiers in Psychology” before the pandemic revealed that only 24% of private/independent high school students cited teachers as helping them cope with stress, and over 30% reported using alcohol or other drugs within the last 30 days.

FACTS Ed and Kognito are confronting this gap, and this new partnership provides schools with the superior content and support they need to successfully implement mental health training into their professional development curriculum. By giving educators the knowledge and skills they need to support their students during this unique time, schools can create a more supportive community that enables their students to thrive.

“The importance of and need for social emotional learning has been spotlighted by the pandemic,” says Jennifer Spiegler, SVP of Strategic Partnerships at Kognito. “We’re excited to work with FACTS Ed to help educators across the country learn valuable skills that can help them meet students where they are, and set them up for success during this critical time.”

About FACTS Education Solutions
FACTS Ed is committed to making educational dreams possible through service and technology. Combined, they serve more than three million students and families at over 11,500 schools. FACTS Ed’s education services include professional learning and development, instructional services, title funding consultation, and a coaching program that uses video technology to help teachers develop their skills. FACTS also offers a comprehensive suite of technology services including tuition management, a student information system, payment administration and processing, financial needs assessment, admissions/enrollment solutions, and a fundraising and development platform.  For more information, visit

New Kognito Online Simulations Give Educators Hands-on Practice to Support Students’ Emotional and Mental Wellness

Kognito brand logo with tagline "Conversations that change lives."

Kognito’s newest training tool builds awareness, knowledge and skills around emotional and mental health, as well as suicide prevention, as schools expect a surge in children who need help.

Kognito, the leading evidence-based simulation company, today announced a new professional development training tool for educators. The online role-play simulation, Emotional & Mental Wellness, builds awareness, knowledge, and skills around emotional and mental health as well as suicide prevention.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought students’ emotional and mental wellness to the forefront,” said Scott Healy, General Manager of Kognito. “To address the needs of schools and districts, we developed the Emotional & Mental Wellness module to train teachers and school staff on identifying the warning signs of psychological distress. It also builds upon utilization of effective communication techniques with students to discuss concerns, build resilience, and increase connectedness.”

With an SEL (social and emotional learning) and trauma-informed lens, the Emotional & Mental Wellness program prepares educators to lead real-life conversations that build resilience, strengthen relationships, and connect students with appropriate support. The program introduces new features such as an optional advanced practice scenario and the inclusion of de-escalation and mindfulness techniques.

“The training was very inviting and not intimidating. It was constantly reassuring me that we all go through this. I need to have that self-awareness,” said a parent in New York that participated in a review of the online simulation.

Kognito’s evidence-based simulations have been used by more than 750,000 educators, staff, and students in over 13,000 schools and districts across the U.S. These unique online learning experiences have been proven to change behavior by increasing skills and confidence to manage critical conversations around topics that impact social and emotional wellness, school climate, and school safety.

Cultural Connection: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with Carolyn Vasquez

Inclusivity is one of our values at Ascend Learning; we are eager to include all people and diverse perspectives. To learn more about what it means to live our values both in and outside the workplace, we sat down [virtually] with Carolyn Vasquez, Ascend Learning director of talent development and inclusion, to discuss National Hispanic Heritage Month — which is observed Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 in the U.S. — to explore the uniqueness and complexity of identity among Hispanic, Latino/a and Latinx communities, and gain insights on how to celebrate this month in your own community.

Can you provide some background about National Hispanic Heritage Month — whom is being celebrated and how did it start?

Carolyn Vasquez (CV): In 1968, [then U.S. President] Lyndon Johnson instituted a national weeklong celebration of Hispanic Heritage Week to acknowledge the contributions of people of Hispanic descent in the fields of art, business, science and those who bravely fought as soldiers during American wars and conflicts. He famously proclaimed “this is our heritage” in that speech, which was an important moment in our history where Hispanic and Latin Americans were publicly recognized as being in fact American.

The Sept. 15 date was selected to recognize five Latin American countries who gained their independence from Spain 200 years ago on that date. There are three others that gained independence in the days after September 15. Fast-forward to 1988 — [former U.S. President] Ronald Reagan extended it to 31 days, and in 1989, it was first proclaimed by [former U.S.] President George H.W. Bush.

This period is referred to as Hispanic Heritage Month, and you’ve also used the term “Latin American.” Can you elaborate on the difference between these terms?

CV: “Latin American” is generally understood to include people from Central and South American countries as well as Mexico. Although “Hispanic” originally referred to somebody who originates from Spain, it was adopted in the 1970s as a term that now usually refers to people whose origins are from Spanish-speaking countries; in other words, Hispanic is a language-based term that does not include Brazilians or Haitians. 

Over the decades, the terms Latin, Latino and Latina — and now, the contemporary term Latinx — came into the fold as terms for anyone whose families’ lineage could be traced to Central and South American countries [and not Spain]. Like many other cultures and countries, many in our community do not identify with the words chosen to historically categorize them [but] instead self-identify in a term for their country of origin because each country has such diversity in terms of their traditions, culture, and even variations in language.

For those unfamiliar with the term, what does Latinx mean?

CV: Latinx is a non-binary expression of Latino or Latina. It is a source of heavy debate in the Hispanic and Latino/a communities, because it is a gender-neutral term intended to categorize a particular group of people whose heritage is rooted in the Spanish language, which grammatically uses genders.

Which brings us back to the challenge that there isn’t one term that encompasses and feels right for everyone in the Hispanic, Latino/a or Latinx communities. To say “I’m Latinx” versus “I’m Hispanic” is a deeply individual choice that references the different intersectionalities of ourselves.

What about individuals who were born outside the U.S. in a Latin American country, but were raised here — or U.S.-born individuals whose family members immigrated from a Latin American country? How do those circumstances influence their identities?

This is a very personal question to me because I come from a multiracial family that is made up of Hispanics, Latinos and Latinas all from different countries of origin. My husband, who is an incredibly proud Guatemalan man, was born and raised in Boston [and from birth was a U.S. citizen], but if you were to ask him about his background or ethnicity, he will say he’s Guatemalan because it’s where his mother and biological father are from.

I was raised in a multiracial family where each of my immediate family members was born in a different place. I was born in Colombia, was adopted as an infant and was raised by two Caucasian parents in a predominately white suburb of Boston. If people ask me about my background, I will often say I was born in Colombia, but in some ways, I identify more as an American or Latinx — or more simply, a human ‘mix’ — than as a non-Spanish-speaking Latina. I am somewhere on the sliding scale in between where any terminology really fits me. I think my personal identity is still being formed.

My [non-biological] brother also was adopted from Colombia. As a Black Latino man raised in America, his identity has been more distinctly carved from his race rather than what language he speaks. He would identify as Afro-Latino, but it doesn’t quite encompass who he is either.

Some categorizations don’t necessarily translate to self-identity in an easy way — they don’t always match up. Ultimately, folks will use the term that’s right for them, depending on their lived experiences.

In what ways can people celebrate during and after Hispanic Heritage Month?

CV: There are so many wonderful ways to acknowledge the month, and it’s based in awareness and education. I always believe the best way to celebrate different cultures is to follow the thread that interests you most — food, fashion, film, music, dance and others — then pull on it and see what you uncover. We have very complex histories — while we are celebrating many different countries and their many contributions to the world, it is important to also acknowledge and understand some of the hardships that folks have had to face in this country.

Another way to engage is through conversation. If you have friends, colleagues or neighbors who are part of these communities, ask them about their personal narratives, their culture or their familial culture.

The list of ways to engage or celebrate is endless — but the best way to embrace the culture is to follow what interests you.