New Mexico UDL is equal opportunity in action

“I don't know it all,” says Janea Menicucci, “but Universal Design for Learning (UDL) has been a part of me for probably my whole life, but for 24 years of teaching it has been at the heart of what I do. I'm an advocate for kiddos and UDL is at my core.”

This changemaking advocate and her incredible team launched the New Mexico UDL Project in April of 2022. Educators at districts around the state who opt into the program receive tools, collaborative training, virtual and in-person events, help with lesson planning, and ongoing support, all with the goal of making learning accessible to every single learner.

Universal Design for Learning is a framework that works to remove anything that gets in the way of learning, proactively. The “barrier” to learning could be reading challenges that stem from a learning disability like dyslexia or it could be a lack of engagement, and anywhere in-between.

Either way, Menicucci and her coaches have it covered...

“UDL reminds me of a Mary Poppins bag,” Menicucci says. “There’s something in there for everyone.”

Here’s an example of what the team’s work with districts looks like: 

“We always approach this work with educators collaboratively, by asking, what are you teaching? Can we ‘UDL’ it?” Janea laughs. “We've made it a verb, but what we mean is taking whatever the teacher is working on and looking at it from a UDL lens,” she says. 

“Like Voice and Choice: if it's a paper and pencil task, how can we use different modalities to play to student strengths or support them in the work they’re doing? Could they use Flip? Could they give their response in a video? Could they make a song? Could they draw it out? We try to give different examples.”

This work is bringing measurable change to districts, and most importantly, their students. “That’s probably why I’m so passionate about this,” Menicucci says, “I’m actually seeing a change. I have leadership who trusts my vision even though it’s crazy, but the crazy is bringing about change.”

While the team doesn’t use the word initiative to describe their work, the project brings several initiatives together under the UDL umbrella.

“Nothing has to be siloed anymore. I can braid all these parts together. I can put my SEL (Social Emotional Learning) with my UDL, and my MLSS (Multi-Layered Systems of Support, New Mexico’s version of MTSS) too”  

“We've also added Structured Literacy. That's been great, because UDL allows our kids to access rigor while still also learning to read. We’re not moving away from teaching reading, but we’re also meeting kids where they’re at right now.” 

Janea attributes the success of the program to her dynamic team of coaches. “These individuals are brilliant. so unique. They all bring something incredible to the plate and I could not do this without them,” she says.

And it’s with this team that she hopes to achieve the project’s goal: to give students “something better” when it comes to education in New Mexico.

“This has always been my vision - How can I make sure that everybody has an equal opportunity?”