Alicia Woolf, MEd, BCBA, LBA, was a special education fellow at Baltimore’s Kennedy Krieger Institute when she first heard about Johns Hopkins’ post-master’s certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis. Two years later, while working for a group supporting teachers in urban environments, she took the plunge and applied. The experience gained during the program not only helped Woolf land a higher-level position in a large school district but also enabled her to launch a successful consulting business on the side.
Woolf, who graduated in 2018, says she frequently employs lessons learned in the program in her current job as a special education instructional specialist for Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland. There, she works in the professional learning office in the Department of Special Education, helping design and deliver professional development opportunities for teachers in areas such as evidence-based academic interventions, behavior interventions, and specially designed instruction.
She also joined forces with her sister Shira and friend Joanna to start an educational consulting business called Innovageous, through which Woolf provides direct services and professional development to other schools, districts, and families that need assistance in specially designed instruction and behavior analysis by a certified specialist.
The Johns Hopkins program appealed to Woolf for several reasons, she says: It was part-time and offered in the evenings to work around her day job. Additionally, Woolf liked learning alongside a small group of classmates working in different aspects of education. They’re now part of her network of professional colleagues.
Professors with the program are both experts in their fields and actively practicing, Woolf adds, and want to see their students succeed.
“I liked that I could go to the professors with real questions I wanted help solving, and they could help me answer those questions rather than saying, ‘Refer to page 57 in the textbook,’” she says. “The other piece I really liked was that the program prepared me to take and pass the board exam.”
Woolf’s ABA work has kept her busy, even during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down some businesses.
“Working in the school district, I’ve been able to reach so many more people,” she says. “Before, we relied on in-person instruction. Now, with things going virtual, instead of 30 people in a room, I can provide professional learning to 1,000 people. That has really been awesome.” Her private business, too, has been growing, now that she is no longer limited by where she could travel.
Woolf encourages the use of ABA across disciplines.
“I love how you can apply ABA to any field you are in,” she says, noting that when she enrolled in the Johns Hopkins program, she thought she would end up working with children with autism in an educational setting. “If you are working in a factory, a school, or a business not related to education, you might still need the expertise of a behavior analyst to support your work…. If you can’t apply ABA where you are right now, then keep practicing, because there are all different ways you can use it. In my everyday life, not only am I teaching adults how to work with kids, but I also am supporting how they can become better learners based on the principles of ABA. That has been eye-opening.”