When you learn in the real world, you make a real difference. Department of Special Education and Disability Policy
WELCOME TO THE DEPARTMENT OF SPECIAL EDUCATION AND DISABILITY POLICY We’re a department that’s combining research, teaching and service to bring our students real-world learning. We’re working together with faculty, students, university colleagues and community partners to generate knowledge, investigate effective strategies, disseminate evidence-based practices, advocate for those we serve and promote exemplary programs. In turn, we’re shaping the future of the field of special education and disability policy.
The demand for special educators is expected to grow at about a 35 percent rate over the next 10 years.
VCU’s strong tradition of community engagement is central to the department’s collaborative programs and affiliated centers. Research and teaching are based on collaboration with local school districts, community and state agencies, national technical assistance centers and policymakers. Two affiliated centers – the Partnership for People with Disabilities and the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center – provide significant service via local, state, national and international research, technical assistance, personnel development and advocacy.
– Dr. K. Lynn Boyer, Director of the National Clearinghouse for Professions in Special Education at the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)
VCU SCHOOL OF EDUCATION FACTS >> Listed among the top education research schools in the country >> Recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation’s top 30 graduate programs in education >> Led by internationally recognized faculty >> Based in a culturally rich and diverse urban environment
FOCUS ON: ADDRESSING THE SHORTAGE OF EARLY INTERVENTION/EARLY CHILDHOOD SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHERS FOR HIGH-NEED COMMUNITIES In addition to the shortage of special education teachers, there is a long-term shortage of special education faculty. – Smith, Pion, Tyler, & Gilmore, 2003
With the COVE program, working educators can gain licensure in special education in an online setting. This highly successful program is both valuable – and doable. – Colleen Thoma, Ph.D., Chair & Professor of VCU Special Education and Disability Policy
The U.S. Department of Education recently awarded Virginia Commonwealth University a $1.25 million grant to address a critical shortage of high-quality educators for infants, toddlers and preschool-age children with disabilities from high-need communities. The five-year grant will allow the VCU School of Education to prepare 40 fully credentialed, highly qualified teachers to implement evidence-based practices in naturalistic learning environments and inclusive community settings, and to improve outcomes and academic success for infants and young children with disabilities. According to Principal Investigator Yaoying Xu, Ph.D., “Our overarching purpose is to increase the quantity, quality and capacity of early intervention and early childhood special education professionals in order to improve the learning and developmental outcomes of young children.”
COVE: ONLINE ACCESS TO CERTIFICATION FOR SPECIAL EDUCATION Thanks to a program at VCU, licensure in Special Education is as close as the computer. With Certifying Online Virginia Educators, or COVE, provisionally licensed special educators in the Central Virginia area can receive coursework and participate in other activities leading to endorsement in Special Education, General Curriculum. All courses are web-based and taught by an instructor who is a faculty member in the Department of Special Education and Disability Policy at VCU. COVE is a combined effort of our department, the Virginia Department of Education and school divisions in Superintendent Region 1. The 27-credit sequence is designed to be completed in six consecutive semesters. To date, more than 800 educators have gained licensure through the program. The success of this program has led the department to retool the M.Ed. program in Special Education/General Education so that it too is available as a fully online program beginning Summer 2014.
Special education currently ranks in the top 15 shortage areas, with 98 percent of the nationâ€™s school districts reporting shortages. 03 04
THE PEOPLE TO LEAD THE PROGRAMS OF TOMORROW Colleen Thoma, Professor and Department Chair Christine Walther-Thomas, Professor, Dean Diane Simon, Associate Professor, Associate Dean of Student Affairs Deborah L. Speece, Professor, Associate Dean of Research and Faculty Development Lynn Pelco, Professor, Associate Vice Provost of Community Engagement Beth Bader, Assistant Professor Cecilia Batalo, Instructor & Mentor Coordinator, Richmond Teacher Residency Program Chin-Chih Chen, Assistant Professor Thomas W. Farmer, Associate Professor Paul Gerber, Ruth Harris Professor of Dyslexia Studies
Our departmentâ€™s faculty members serve on a number of national and international boards, including more than 20 editorial boards of the leading journals in the field, and the Executive Board of the Council for Exceptional Children, the premier professional organization for special educators. Colleen Thoma, Ph.D., is our Department Chair, and a Professor of Special Education and Disability Policy. Among her many accomplishments, Dr. Thoma was awarded a Switzer Distinguished Research Fellowship, which allowed her to conduct a qualitative study of transition postsecondary education programs for students with ID. She is also the recipient of the esteemed Oliver P. Kolstoe Award for 2013. Her work has focused on preparing youth with disabilities for their transition to adult life.
Deborah L. Speece, Ph.D., Professor and Associate Dean of Research and Faculty Development, came to us recently from the University of Maryland. Dr. Speece served as the Commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research at the Institute of Education Sciences in the U.S. Department of Education where she was responsible for the national research agenda for special education. Paul Gerber, Ph.D. and Endowed Chair, is our Ruth Harris Professor of Dyslexia Studies. His recent scholarly activities include the co-authorship of Visionaries, Leaders and Dreamers: Extraordinary People with Dyslexia and Learning Disabilities (Nova Science); the analysis of indicator data from 14 states on outcomes of students with disabilities; and a collaborative research study with the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Donna L. Giles, Associate Professor, Executive Director of Partnership for People with Disabilities Dawn Hendricks, Assistant Professor, Director of Training for VCU Autism Center for Excellence Mary Ellen Huennekens, Assistant Professor John Kregel, Professor, Assistant Director of Rehabilitation Research and Training Center Selena Layden, Assistant Professor, Training Coordinator for VCU Autism Center for Excellence Evelyn Reed, Associate Professor LaRon A. Scott, Assistant Professor Kevin Sutherland, Professor Paul Wehman, Professor, Director of Rehabilitation Research and Training Center Yaoying Xu, Associate Professor
OUR PROGRAMS The department is active in preparing highly qualified professionals for teaching at the early childhood, elementary, secondary and postsecondary levels in the field of special education and disability policy. We prepare: DOCTORAL CANDIDATES to become faculty at universities and colleges around the country as well as change agents of disability policy at the local, state and federal levels. TEACHERS to work with students having an array of disabilities – from those infants and toddlers who are developmentally delayed to transition-aged youth with high or low incidence disabilities. EDUCATORS, COMMUNITY PROFESSIONALS AND ADVOCATES as they increase their knowledge and skills in working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities. Doctoral Degree Program Ph.D. in Special Education and Disability Policy Master’s Degree and Licensure Programs Early Childhood Special Education Special Education, General Education Severe Disabilities
VCU offers candidates exceptional opportunities to develop as professionals in disability policy and leadership. The majority of these experiences take place outside of coursework, working alongside faculty in research, teaching and service. – Edwin Achola, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, College of Education, California State University
Certificate Programs Online Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorders Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Disability Leadership Post Master’s Certificate for Board Certification in Behavior Analysis (BCBA)
Research. Insights leading to discovery. In our department, faculty and doctoral students actively engage in research across the lifespan in a wide array of areas. Current research initiatives include: >> Early learning environments for culturally and linguistically diverse children >> Behavior problem prevention in early childhood >> Youth violence prevention >> Early literacy instruction >> Environmental factors that prevent/ minimize bullying in middle schools >> Self-determination and transition >> Adolescent/adult employment and self-sufficiency >> Impact of disability policy on youth transition >> Adults with learning disabilities, including youth with autism >> Community engagement for personnel preparation Many faculty members in the department have federal funding to support their research.
THE BEST IN CLASS PROGRAM: REACHING OUT TO HELP STUDENTS AT RISK FOR EMOTIONAL AND BEHAVIORAL DISORDERS Several years ago, researchers at VCU were approached by a local school division. The issue: a growing number of children entering federally funded preschool programs had existing patterns of challenging behavior, and teachers needed strategies to help them. The result: BEST in CLASS, a collaborative project between the VCU School of Education; Richmond City, Henrico County and Chesterfield County Schools; local childcare centers; and preschool teachers. This federally funded research project is designed to help preschool teachers develop improved ways of teaching children to be attentive and ready to learn, and to learn the social skills necessary to be successful in kindergarten. BEST IN CLASS is currently in year three of a four-year efficacy study. The program has enrolled more than 80 teachers at 37 different schools and childcare centers in Virginia. A second site for the study is concurrently operating out of the University of Florida. The project has Co-Principal Investigators, Kevin Sutherland, Ph.D. at VCU, and Maureen Conroy, Ph.D. at the University of Florida. Conroy is a former VCU faculty member. According to Project Coordinator Abigail Vo, Ph.D., “BEST in CLASS is unique in that it focuses on teachers as the agents of change, it’s a classroom-based Tier 2 intervention, it employs a practice-based coaching model and it was developed with the help of teachers and administrators to ensure its feasibility in classrooms.” Program strategies include rules, pre-correction, opportunities to respond, behavior-specific praise, corrective feedback and instructive feedback, with a focus on home/ school communication. BEST in CLASS, which began in 2008 with a development study, will conclude in 2015.
In one year alone, the department secured more than $17 million in funding to support research and personnel preparation work. 09 04
The SEALS program is now being implemented on a broader scale in 28 schools, which have committed to the program for two years.
PROJECT SEALS: A PROGRAM FOR THE SUCCESSFUL TRANSITION TO MIDDLE SCHOOL As students begin middle school, they’re vulnerable to a range of academic, behavioral and social problems that may negatively impact their school adjustment. Many adolescents experience difficulties during this time due to a poor fit between their developmental needs and the demands of the school environment. And difficulty in academics, behavior or social aspects can lead to problems in all three areas. To help counter this, VCU Professor Thomas Farmer joined forces with UNC’s Dr. Jill Hamm and Penn State’s Dr. David Lee to create Project SEALS: Supporting Early Adolescents’ Learning and Social Success. The SEALS program works to prepare sixth-grade teachers to provide a social and instructional context that supports all students, including those who are at increased risk for school adjustment problems. The program shows teachers how to instill: >> Academic engagement strategies focused on instructional preparation, organization and engagement skills >> Competence enhancement behavioral management strategies >> Classroom social dynamics and bullying prevention strategies Pilot trials have been conducted with SEALS in rural schools in nine states, and results suggest that SEALS effectively supports early adolescents during this period of vulnerability. The program is now being implemented on a broader scale in 28 schools, which have committed to the program for two years.
SHAPING THE FUTURE OF SPECIAL EDUCATION Through research, service and innovative programs, the Department of Special Education and Disability Policy continues to help advocate for and serve the growing needs of children and adults with disabilities. We encourage you to follow our progress, and join in our effort, in a community where we all learn from one another.
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