Pounding the Pavement for a Cause: William James College Alum to Run the 2024 Boston Marathon in Support of the School Psychology Program

alum katherine oshea in classroom

Making record time was entirely in character for Katherine O’Shea, 2022 graduate of the Master of Arts in Applied Behavior Analysis program, when it came to pursuing graduate school and finding her way to William James College. “Based on my undergraduate student teaching experience, in a rural school in Pennsylvania with few resources, I saw the need for educators with behavioral training and skills,” says O’Shea who attended Bucknell University on a Division I swimming scholarship. While there, the Bolton native and four-time Boston Globe All-Scholastic Athlete from Concord-Carlisle High School was a member of the record-holding (1:33:36) 200 freestyle team. On Monday, April 15, the former college athlete turned kindergarten teacher will lace up her sneakers and don the William James College bib for the 128th Boston Marathon—determined to pound all 26.2 miles of pavement (including Heartbreak Hill, in Newton), to raise money for the School Psychology program. 

“It was very challenging,” recalls O’Shea of her stint at an elementary school serving central Pennsylvania’s farming community, citing an abundance of students with behavioral issues and few in-school supports to speak of. “The kids were really struggling…and the teachers were not being educated about behavior as a form of communication,” says O’Shea who used this difficult experience to further her own education—namely, learning how becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst would position her to help a diverse range of students gain access to the curriculum. 

“There are so many kids missing out on the education they deserve because there are not enough behavioral supports in the general classroom setting—especially among hyperactive boys and those on the autism spectrum who, with the proper support, can access the classroom, perform on grade level, and benefit from improved social interactions,” says O’Shea who, after graduating with a degree in early childhood education and passing the teacher’s exam, enrolled in the Applied Behavior Analysis program at William James College. 

“It was clear [the program emphasized] using data to make informed decisions—which is why I wanted to pursue behavior analysis—and Dr. Lee was really educated and passionate about the field,” says O’Shea of her interview with Ronald Lee, PhD, LABA, BCBA-D, Director, MA in Applied Behavior Analysis which ultimately sealed the deal for O’Shea, whose final semester was her favorite.

“I did my final research project on behavioral interventions for hyperactivity in the classroom, which was hard because there is not a lot of [material referencing] classroom teachers using behavioral analysis,” says O’Shea of a topic that’s become largely separate as a field. Lengthy discussions with Lee, about this very fact led O’Shea to reach the conclusion: “If classroom teachers and behavior analysts collaborated—to make information and in-school trainings more accessible— more kids could access the general classroom setting,” she says of how implementing behavioral interventions as a first line of approach could make a world of difference for those students in need of support.

“While the general population in public schools is changing, many teacher trainings are not,” says O’Shea of a topic she not only explored at length in her studies but also employed during job interviews—like one in particular, in the Westford Public Schools, where she currently teaches kindergarten. 

“My degree from William James College has allowed me to make a world of difference in the lives of young children,” says O’Shea whose combination of skills provides the opportunity for special needs students to be seamlessly included in the general classroom using behavioral interventions and inclusion tools to help kids access the curriculum without resorting to a substantially separate setting. 

When she’s not teaching, coaching the local high school swim team, or studying for her boards (slated for late March), O’Shea is busy training for race day—which, as it turns out, will not be her first. “Swimming was not that accessible after college,” says the life-long swimmer who took up running to stay in shape. Following in her mother’s footsteps (who donned a bib in 2006 and 2008), O’Shea ran her first Boston Marathon in 2021—raising funds for Boston Children’s Hospital in honor of her sister, Charlotte, who died in 2010 (at the age of six) following a four-year journey with brain cancer.

 “You never know what kids are going through,” says O’Shea, speaking from experience. “Behavior [can be]  a form of communication, and you can’t blame a young person for the hand they were dealt—whether it’s genetic or learned,” she says, pointing to her sister’s life as playing a pivotal role in her success as a kindergarten teacher (which, consequently, was the last year Charlotte completed in school). “She gave me a unique perspective on looking at children, not blaming them for what situation they are in, and helping them to live a meaningful life,” says O’Shea who was 12 when Charlotte died.

As to her current why, for choosing to run and fundraise on behalf of her alma mater? “I wanted to [run the marathon] again, and I was really proud to attend William James College. I had reached out in the fall to ask if WJC would be getting a bib this year and, when they got one from the City of Newton, they called to offer it to me. This is an opportunity for me to bring attention to the significant shortage of special needs teachers and school psychologists in school districts across New England and the rest of the country,” says O’Shea whose goal is for 500 community members to make a donation—in support of the School Psychology program at William James College—each of whom will receive a personal thank you note and a limited-edition WJC Boston Marathon sticker.

“The Boston Marathon is such an historic event, including the City of Newton and our campus at William James,” says O’Shea in a nod to the infamous Heartbreak Hill, a scant four miles from 1 Wells Avenue. Come Patriot’s Day, her whole family (including brothers William and James!) will be cheering her on.

“When people ask me why I do what I do, I tell them, ‘I aspire to have my BCBA license, and knowledge of behavior analysis, to help these kids in this setting,’” says O’Shea (in a nod to her kindergarteners at Rita E. Miller Elementary School), whose decision to remain a classroom teacher not only sets her apart from many of her program peers, but also allows her to effectively stay in her own lane—setting her own pace, one lap at a time. 

Want to help Katherine meet her fundraising goals? Make a donation!


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