Join us for an enlightening panel discussion, as we pose questions to a group of special education experts and classroom teachers to understand the challenges of teaching special needs students in the general education classroom and how YOU can make a difference in their lives!

To learn more about this year's panelists, please see below.



Judith Cohen, EdD
Director, Clinical Experiences
Adjunct Professor, Special Education

Dr. Judith Cohen was a reading clinician and classroom teacher of students with learning disabilities, dyslexia, and related language and reading disabilities for 25 years prior to serving as a Visiting Assistant Professor, Faculty Administrator, and Coordinator of Special Education Placement & Supervision. Currently, she is the director of the Office of Clinical Experiences and teaches courses in the Special Education program. She also works as an educational consultant, and has developed and presented numerous literacy workshops that focus of phonological awareness, phonics, and special education.

Selected Courses Taught

EEX 4240/EEX 5259: Literacy in Special Education
EDE 4936/EEX 4936: Student Teaching Seminar
EEX 4861/EEX 6862: Student Teaching in Special Education
ELD 4240/ELD 5235: Instructional Strategies for Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities
EEX 3066/EEX 5068: Instructional Practices in ESE I

Liana Gonzalez, EdD
Instructor, Special Education

Dr. Liana Gonzalez was a teacher of students with Emotional Behavioral Disorders (EBD) and Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) for 15 years prior to becoming an Instructor at FIU in 2010. Throughout her teaching career, she has been a strong advocate of students with disabilities and created several inclusion programs designed to include students with EBD in general education settings. Her publications focus in the areas of inclusion, urban education, and disability advocacy. Currently, she is one of the P.Is for Project TEACH LAB, a federal grant that provides a specialized Master's degree in special education for teachers who work with students with severe and persistent learning and behavior challenges. This project will educate and retain 61 special educators.

Selected Courses Taught

EEX 3066 Instructional Practices I
EEX 3070 Teaching Students with Exceptionalities in Inclusive Settings
EEX 6756 Special Topics in Special Education- Families and Collaboration
EEX 6848 Issues and Trends in Special Education

Eyleen Ortiz, EdD
Executive Director
A-Z Educational Consulting, LLC 

Dr. Eyleen Ortiz is the Executive Director at A-Z Educational Consulting, LLC located in Miami, FL. She completed her Doctorate Degree in Administration and Supervision of Special Education Programs at Columbia University, Teachers College in 2009. She completed a Master's Degree in Behavior Analysis and Special Education and, a second Master's Degree in Instructional Services at Columbia University, Teachers College in 2004. She currently holds a Special Education Teacher and School Administrator certificate in the states of New York, New Jersey, and Florida. While completing her Master's and Doctorate degrees, she worked with children ages 24 months to 18 years old. She has served as a Behavioral Consultant and Educational Consultant with several school districts, agencies and organizations in New York State. She has been practicing in fields of Special Education and General Education for over 17 years. Her passion for, and dedication to the fields of Special Education, Applied Behavior Analysis and General Education have made Dr. Ortiz and instrumental leader in the training and supervision of teachers, school district administrators, and agencies therapists.

Maria Alvarez-Tsalikis, EdD
Senior Instructor, Literacy Education
Program Director, Elementary Education

Dr. Maria Alvarez Tsalikis has over twenty years of experience serving children, adults, and the community. She was a teacher at Miami-Dade County Public Schools for ten years before becoming an instructor at FIU. During that time, Dr. Tsalikis taught a variety of student populations and grade levels including children with special needs. She served as grade level chair and committee leader for curriculum development and budgeting. Dr. Tsalikis teaches graduate and undergraduate courses. Her areas of expertise and interests include curriculum and program development, community engagement, and directing the teaching academy, which encourages and prepares students for college and careers in education.

Selected Courses Taught

RED 3313 Language and Literacy Development (birth-age 5)-Hybrid and Online
RED 4150 Primary Reading Instruction
RED 4311 Intermediate Reading Instruction
RED 4110 Teaching Reading in the Context of School (Clinical Experience)
RED 6540 Reading Assessment-Hybrid and Online
RED 6314 Theory and Instruction in Literacy-Online
RED 6546 Diagnosis in Reading Instruction
RED 6515 Remediation in Reading Instruction
LAE 5415 Children’s Literature

Tia DeCerbo
Student Teacher, Special Education
Florida International University

Tia DeCerbo is a senior at Florida International University. She is currently completing her student teaching with Mrs. Janelle Corado in her self-contained class of seventh graders with Intellectual Disabilities. Tia is graduating from the university with her bachelor's degree in Exceptional Student Education in May and will begin working on her master's degree in Special Education with the Autism endorsement under funding from Project OPERATE in August.

Janelle Corado
Teacher, Special Education
Academy for Arts & Innovation
Blue Lakes K-8 Center
FIU Alumna

Janelle Corado is an alumni of Florida International University, where she has earned both her bachelor's degree in Exceptional Student Education and her master's degree in Special Education with the Autism endorsement through Project PEACE. Janelle has worked in Miami-Dade County Public Schools for a total of six years and currently teaches a self-contained class of seventh graders with Intellectual Disabilities within the Academy for Arts and Innovation at Blue Lakes K-8 Center.

Susan Ortiz
Teacher, English Education
Director, Education Academy
Piper High School

Susan Ortiz was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the City University of New York and moved to Florida in 1997. Susan is the mother of two active boys and after some friends suggested she would make a good teacher and realizing she wanted a job where she could spend the most time with her sons, she decided to venture into teaching in 2008. At that point, she decided to pursue a graduate degree and received her MA in Secondary Education.

After two years teaching at a charter middle school, she returned to Piper in 2011 and has been there ever since. Currently, she primarily teaches English, but after proposing the initiation of an Exploratory Teaching program in the Spring of 2015, Piper administrators agreed to opening a Principles of Teaching class in the Fall of 2016. Now in its second year, Ms. Ortiz is the Director of the Education Academy at Piper High School, she teaches the Principles of Teaching classes, as well as an FIU Dual Enrollment Education course. Ms. Ortiz is also the Advisor of Piper’s FEA Chapter and has been since 2012.

Daniel Vinat
Teacher, Social Studies Education
Felix Varela Senior High School

Vinat teaches 9th Grade World History and 9th grade Humanities. He has been teaching for 15 years and recently received his Gifted Education endorsement. Daniel has a bachelor’s degree in Social Studies Education from Florida International University (Class of 2002). He is currently the President of the Miami Dade County Council for the Social Studies, where he assists in the organization of conferences and professional development opportunities for Social Studies teachers. Daniel has worked with Florida International University’s dLOC and Latin American and Caribbean Center to develop Social Studies specific activities related to the primary documents in the collection such as interdisciplinary lessons on the Caribbean as a region as well as the Brazil-Asia connection. He has also worked with the Division of Social Sciences and Life Skills for Miami Dade County Public Schools to develop the scope and sequence for the new World History curriculum that aligns with the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards for Florida as well as on the Textbook Adoption committee for the AP Economics textbook. Daniel has presented workshops for educators of topics ranging from how to incorporate reading strategies into your classroom, Social Studies or not, to how to use and teach with primary and secondary documents.

At the school level Daniel is involved in a variety of professional and extracurricular activities. He is the sponsor of the school’s chapter of the Future Educators of America club, which has won the outstanding chapter of the year award at the state level twice. He also sponsors the Class of 2019. Daniel works as the chairperson of the schools Hispanic Heritage Committee, where he assists in the production of the school showcase, art exhibit and various student contests. Through this work, Daniel has developed a relationship with the Father Felix Varela Foundation, the organization that fought for the naming of the school. With the help of the organization, students have been awarded for their essays and artwork on Father Varela and in 2012 the school finally unveiled a monument in his honor, with a student written quote. As a teacher in the school’s Global Studies Magnet Program, Daniel has developed a variety of programs to enhance student learning. Daniel has coached a team for the Euro Challenge competition, where students select, solve and present a problem concerning the EU to international government officials. Daniel has also taken students to the FIU Program in National Security Simulation. He has worked with the History Channel’s Take a Vet to school Program to bring WWII, Vietnam and Iraqi war veterans to talk to students. He has also brought in other motivational speakers from news anchors to Olympic athletes to celebrity chefs for the student body. Daniel was recognized for his outstanding work as the recipient of the Miami Dade Council for the Social Studies High School Teacher of the Year in 2008. In 2009 Daniel spent a week learning and working with Florida Supreme Court Judges through the Florida Law Related Studies Justice Teaching Institute. He has also twice been awarded 2nd place for his lesson plans in the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Miami Branch Economics Lesson Plan of the Year Contest.

Nicole Slater
Teacher, Early Childhood Education
Department Chair, Technical Arts
John A. Ferguson Senior High School
Co-Director, Falcon's Nest Preschool

Nicole Marie Slater has been teaching at John A. Ferguson Senior High for the past 10 years. She is currently teaching Early Childhood Education 1-4 and Florida International University’s dual enrollment Introduction to Education and Teaching Diverse Populations. Additionally, Mrs. Slater is the department chairperson for the Technical Arts Department. As a strong believer in the positive effects of early learning, she has been the co-director of an on-site preschool program, Falcon’s Nest Preschool, for children ages 3-5. Early Childhood Education is part of a nationally recognized academy magnet program preparing pre-service teachers. Upon completion of the program, students receive Department of Children and Families certification and acquire their Child Development Associate. Nicole’s program recently received a visit from the Board of Directors of the Council for Professional Recognition CDA where she received an award of excellence.

Nicole is a native to south Florida and received her BS in Early Childhood Education (2005) and her MS in Curriculum and Instruction with a specialization in Elementary Education (2009) from Florida International University. Throughout her schooling, she has worked with children with special needs and taught dance to young children at Dance Unlimited. As a mother of 3 young children she understands the impact of a quality education and strives to create passionate educators.

Elena Pelayo
Elementary Teacher
Dr. Rolando Espinoza K-8 Center
M-DCPS Bilingual Assesor

Elena Pelayo received her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Florida International University in 1990 and her Master of Science in Reading Education from Florida International University in 1995. She is a 27-year veteran teacher at Miami-Dade Public Schools. During those years, Mrs. Pelayo has taught grades 1-6 and served a variety of student populations. Mrs. Pelayo’s experiences include lead teacher at her school and Bilingual Assessor for the region, a position which required her to assess students and determine if the difficulties they were having in the classroom were related to second language acquisition or other language processes. She also worked under a grant with high school students in which she assisted Refugee students to ensure they received all appropriate services and were ready to graduate.