Students pursuing advanced degrees in exceptional student education can apply for projects offering tuition support, collaboration across disciplines and specialized credentials.

UCF students working with young children with special needs

Collaboration across disciplines better prepares scholars to serve K-12 students and improve learning outcomes. (Photo by Amy Floyd) Photo was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is a critical shortage of special educators in the workforce,” says Eleazar ‘Trey’ Vasquez, professor of exceptional student education and director of the Toni Jennings Exceptional Education Institute.

To increase the number of highly effective special educators, the School of Teacher Education is accepting applications for three grant-funded, interdisciplinary projects that provide tuition support to graduate students in exceptional student education, school psychology, and communication sciences and disorders. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, each project provides tuition assistance for up to 36 credit hours.

“The greatest impact we can have is to provide enhanced preparation through evidence-based coursework to our special education teachers, school psychologists and speech-language pathologists,” according to Dena Slanda, research associate for exceptional student education who coordinates Project Bridges 2.0 and Project SPEECH.

Not only do these projects provide financial support, but scholars also have opportunities to collaborate across disciplines.

Slanda says the need for collaboration is essential for special education teachers and service providers. “Historically, these educators would receive high-quality programming in their respective disciplines – but in silos,” says Slanda. “And once graduates began work in school, they would be expected to collaborate with other professionals, which can be challenging without fully realizing the scope of expertise for each discipline.”

But because these three projects foster collaboration among scholars and faculty across disciplines, Slanda says they are better prepared to serve their students and improve learning outcomes.

All three projects provide tuition assistance to students seeking a graduate degree in exceptional student education, school psychology, or communication sciences and disorders, but they offer a range interdisciplinary experiences, depending on each scholar’s specialization of interest.

Project ASD (Preparing Special Educators and Speech-Language Practitioners in Autism Spectrum Disorders) offers scholars from exceptional student education and communication sciences and disorders graduate programs opportunities to learn across disciplines to improve outcomes for children with autism. Scholars earn an advanced degree, graduate certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorders (offered by only a few universities in Florida) and a state endorsement in autism.

The project prepares scholars to conduct research, implement best practices based on research, and evaluate the latest programs and projects that serve special education students, including students with autism. Scholars also gain field experiences in high-need school settings and receive ongoing advisement, financial and academic support, and mentorship. In addition to tuition support, scholars receive a stipend of $250 per course per semester and money to attend state or national conferences, when funding is available.

Project Bridges 2.0 (Collaborative Intervention Specialist Graduate Certificate) prepares scholars from exceptional student education and school psychology graduate programs through interdisciplinary collaboration to improve learning and social-emotional outcomes for children with disabilities and/or high-intensity needs.

The project helps students plan innovative interventions for struggling learners, network with experts in the field, improve student growth using research-based practices and create differentiated instruction for the students they serve.

In addition, scholars graduate with an advanced degree and a Collaborative Intervention Specialist Graduate Certificate, preparing them to connect with intervention teams, and offer several types of supports to students, parents and school systems.

Project SPEECH (Speech-Language Pathologists and Exceptional Educators Collaboration for Children with High-Intensity Needs) pairs scholars from exceptional student education and communication sciences and disorders graduate programs, offering collaborative instruction to work with students with a variety of disabilities who need sustained interventions to address their language and literacy needs. In addition to an advanced degree, scholars earn an Interdisciplinary Language and Literacy Intervention Graduate Certificate.

The project also involves working with faculty who specialize in supporting English language learners and students who need extra support with reading instruction. In addition, scholars are prepared to support the child’s care network – parents, teachers and service providers – with tools, resources and strategies that enable them to provide the best care for their child. Scholars also benefit from experience working in high-need school settings and UCF clinics.

All three projects are accepting applications.

Apply to Project Bridges 2.0 or Project SPEECH soon, as interviews for Summer 2021 will be held in March 2021. Apply to Project ASD by April 1 for Summer 2021 and July 1 for Fall 2021.