IDRPP Service Division Adds Two Associate Directors
Kellie Kohler and Dr. Tressa Johnston
The Institute for Disability Research, Policy & Practice’s Service Division is growing, with new projects coming on board and existing ones poised to grow. To manage the changes, IDRPP has brought in two Service Division Associate Directors.
The Institute is part of the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services at Utah State University.
Kellie Kohler comes to IDRPP after working in the Department of Workforce Services. She was the State Director of Collaboration for Head Start and at-risk children and families and served on the Utah Pyramid Model State Leadership Team. It was good preparation for her new role at the Institute, where she will oversee the Utah Pyramid Model project.
The Pyramid Model is an evidence-based practice used by practitioners in early care and education settings to increase social and emotional competence of children. It will be implemented by early intervention practitioners, early educators, families, and other early childhood professionals. Kohler has experience implementing and using the model; in fact, she facilitated the program-wide adoption of the Pyramid Model for a Head Start program in Idaho.
After implementation, data showed promising results of the program. Among them were significant improvement in relations with families, reductions in challenging behavior, and better classroom quality.
“We saw a lot of the benefits,” Kohler said. The practices outlined in the model gave teachers, staff, and families the skills they needed to help children development the social and emotional competencies needed to be successful in the classroom and in life.
The goal of the model is to support teachers and practitioners who work with children in early care and education settings, including strategies for supporting children with challenging behaviors. “It made a difference in the lives of our teachers. It helped them feel more confident teaching children and managing their classrooms.”
Dr. Tressa Johnston
Tressa Johnston will help administer Southeast Early Intervention, the Utah Assistive Technology Program and Bridgerland Literacy. The Up to 3 Program, another early intervention program operating in Cache, Rich and Box Elder Counties, will still be led by Marla Nef.
Johnston will lead some of the Institute’s services designed to meet Utah families where they are. Southeast Early Intervention serves children under three in Grand, Emery and Carbon Counties. “It’s a big area that is very rural. The program has some new things happening,” Johnston said.
The Utah Assistive Technology Program serves Utahns statewide through its financing programs, and it also connects people to the devices they need to stay independent. It has physical offices in Logan, Vernal and Salt Lake City. “There’s a really good outreach for families that live in Rural Utah,” she said.
Bridgerland Literacy is located in Cache County, where the program’s tutors work with people of all ages who want to increase their reading and writing skills. The program is working with libraries in seven of the county’s smaller towns, in order to meet clients close to home.
Johnston comes to her new position with experience working in IDRPP’s Up to 3 Program, where she worked as a physical therapist before receiving her doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Texas Medical Branch. She returned to Utah in 2020 and came back to the Institute—and Up to 3—in 2022.
“I loved working with Up to 3, and the relationships that I had with the other staff. It’s such a great program,” she said. In addition to her administrative duties, she will continue as a part-time physical therapist with Up to 3.