Jennifer, tell us about yourself
I live in Drums, with my husband, Bill Dessoye who is a physical therapist and our daughters. We met at Misericordia University (MU) in his freshman year and my sophomore year. He graduated MU in 2002 and I graduated MU in 2001. We began as good friends and then realized that we couldn’t live without each other. We have been married for 14 years. He is unbelievably supportive and is proud of my accomplishments and loves me for my flaws too.
Our children are Brianna, 11, and Julia, 8. I love that I get to teach them about being strong, educated, driven and compassionate woman. They are what drive me.
I’ve had many mentors throughout my life. My father, mother and Aunt Susan have been my most consistent mentors.
My father is a very successful businessman who has an incredible approach to leadership, my mother taught me to understand healthy relationships can be difficult when you are a strong successful woman and my Aunt Susan taught me to be a leader by demonstrating longevity in her leadership roles in nursing. My younger sister, Kristin Beurmann is a special education teacher.
What was it like growing up in your town? I was born and raised in New Jersey by the shore. I grew up in Howell, New Jersey and graduated from Howell High School.
The town was strong in diversity and fostered individuality. I had many groups of friends, some of whom I remain close to today.
You started a private school.
I founded, designed and co-own Bright Beginnings Early Learning Academy (BBELA) in Conyngham, a private elementary school. I was discontent with the early elementary curriculum and understanding of human development and neurology, so I enlisted the help of two incredible teachers, my sister Kristen Beurmann and Casey Herseim. They understand the scope and sequence of the curriculum and how to engage our youngest learners; they have a true passion for teaching. Eight years ago, we began with the Kindergarten Readiness program, a six-week program for students who were to enter kindergarten in the fall. This was very successful and turned a profit in its first year. After three years, we were called upon by parents and educators to open our own school based on the Kindergarten Readiness program methodology.
After my sister moved to Virginia, Casey and I opened BBELA. In our classrooms, the student experience is active and hands-on. Our multi-sensory center-based curriculum engages young learners and invites them to participate in an environment that is uniquely tailored to both nurture and challenge each individual student.
Can you describe the curriculum?
Bright Beginnings’ curriculum emphasizes the emotional, social, cognitive and physical development of the individual learner and strives to build positive relationships with families and the community.
We align all preschool and elementary curriculum with PA state standards. We recognize and implement current best practices in education and developmentally appropriate instruction based on readiness, learning style, and individual interest. The use of small group learning centers and the incorporation of gross and fine motor learning experiences gives Bright Beginnings’ students a unique advantage.
My sister, Kristin was my initial partner in developing the curriculum for Bright Beginnings Early Learning Academy. She is incredibly talented at working with children with special needs and we often collaborate and problem solve to get children to learn at their optimal level. I am not sure she really knows how much I admire her.
You have had many successes despite having dyslexia. I have had to work hard for my success my whole life. I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was in elementary school after many teachers told me I was not very smart and wouldn’t amount to much.
My amazing parents pushed for testing and even after hearing about dyslexia many teachers wrote me off. I decided, with my parent’s encouragement, that I would never allow someone to tell me who I was. I would show them who I was. I studied hard, got tutoring and pushed myself. Reading for me can still be challenging mostly with words I haven’t read before as well as last names. Spelling is the main problem, so I am grateful for computers and spell check. I compensate well and honestly, dyslexia is why I have been successful. Dyslexia made me overcome hurdles and allowed me to think in a different way that’s easy for me but many people have never thought in that way before.
You are also an occupational therapist. How did that happen? My mother was a special education teacher and in eighth grade she said, “you’ve got to come see this occupational therapist at my school. She plays with kids all day and has swings, balls and toys in her therapy room.” I went to observe and loved it. I shadowed with OTs at a hospital and in an outpatient clinic for patients with spinal cord injuries and I was hooked.
I was accepted to many occupational therapy programs but chose Misericordia University. I received my master’s degree in OT in 2001 and went back for my doctorate in 2008 while I worked and had a toddler and a newborn. I had a career I loved in the Hazleton Area School District as a pediatric occupational therapist when I was deciding whether I should take an opportunity at Misericordia to become a professor. Teaching was my long-term plan but this opportunity came up much earlier than anticipated.
My then 10-year-old nephew, Tommy overheard my conversation about remaining with my special needs clients or switching to the world of academia. He said: “Aunt Jenn, you love helping people, right?” “Yes,” I said. “I love my clients and I can’t imagine giving that up.” He responded. “Well if you help the OT students learn how to be really great therapists, wouldn’t you really be helping way more people.”
I realized the impact of that statement and made my decision to teach at Misericordia. I want to foster passion and excellence in occupational therapists.
You also developed and implemented a health sciences camp. We did this because the nature of health science programs is so competitive that kids need to think about this early and it gives them something to work for in high school There are way more careers in health science beside doctors and nurses. The Health Sciences Interprofessional Middle School Career Camp offers a hands-on opportunity to learn about occupational therapy, physical therapy, sonography, medical imaging, physician’s assistant, nursing, speech and language pathology and other health science-related career fields in a fun, dynamic, and interactive environment.
Taught by university professors and graduate assistants, students gain an understanding of different career paths. It’s a fun and educational week that will have your child loving the health sciences.
Tell us about your daughters.
My daughters are amazing. They are very different which is so interesting to me. Brianna is 11 and into soccer and golf. She is an incredible athlete. She is very kind-hearted and very opinionated. She also has dyslexia which has been a struggle for her especially with many teachers still not understanding what it is. Julia has an amazing gift for the arts. She loves to sing, dance and act as well as do gymnastics. She has an incredible connection to animals and wants to be a vet when she grows up.
Meet Dr. Jennifer Dessoye and her family
Jennifer Dessoye, OTD OTR/L, 39, is a wife, mother and professor. She has a doctorate in occupational therapy and teaches at Misericordia University. She also founded, designed and co-owns a private elementary school: Bright Beginnings Early Learning Academy (BBELA) in Conyngham.
In no order: Jennifer and Bill Dessoye with children, Brianna, 11, and Julia, 8.