NCCU receives $1.1 million Department of Education grant to train educators to work with special-needs students

Posted February 10, 2023, 3:50PM

The North Carolina Central University (NCCU) School of Education has been awarded a five-year, $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to train teachers to work with special-needs children. 

Thirty-two teacher candidates will earn a teaching license in a special education-adapted or general curriculum, as well as training to improve the outcomes of students who have high-intensity needs in the classroom. High-intensity needs include a complex array of disabilities, including significant cognitive, physical or sensory disabilities, significant autism or significant emotional or learning disabilities, including dyslexia. This population also includes students with disabilities that require intensive, individualized interventions.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, $7.2 million or 15% of all public school students in the United States receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In North Carolina, more than 200,000 students in the state need special education services and most of the state’s 115 school systems have identified more than 13% of their students as needing those services. Yet, the Economic Policy Institute reports a projected shortfall of nearly 200,000 public school teachers in the U.S. by the 2025-2026 school year, particularly special education instructors.

“The program will help address the nationwide teacher shortage, particularly in special education, and recruit teachers from underrepresented populations to serve students with disabilities who have high-intensity needs and will be expanded to emphasize effective practices of cognitive behavioral interventions,” said Maureen Short, Ph.D., associate professor of special education, interim chair of NCCU’s Department of Curriculum Instruction and principal investigator on the grant. 

Entitled “Preparing Culturally Responsive Exemplary Educators to Serve School-age Children with Disabilities who have High Intensity Needs (CultuREd),” the program will also be co-led by Yolanda Keller-Bell, Ph.D., associate professor in the NCCU Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and speech-language pathologist, and support tuition, stipends, books, clinical experiences and professional development for the teacher candidates. Funds will be used to host national consultants who will provide workshops for regional special and general education teachers on the use of effective interventions and ecological approaches in diverse communities, which will benefit local partner school districts.

“I am most excited about the opportunity to improve NCCU’s Special Education Program and train teachers who will have a significant impact on the outcomes of K-12 students with disabilities,” Short added.

Audrey W. Beard, Ph.D., dean of NCCU’s School of Education, said she’s confident the $1.1 million grant will result in highly competent teachers entering the education field adequately prepared to work with children with disabilities with high-intensity needs.

“We have outstanding faculty in our School of Education who will judiciously utilize these funds to ensure the 32 teacher candidates receive the required preparation to be most effective in their roles,” Beard said. “To teach is honorable. To teach children with disabilities requires individuals who understand that going ‘above and beyond’ will likely be the norm, not the exception. I am certain Dr. Maureen Short, Dr. Yolanda Keller-Bell and other staff will prepare our teacher candidates for this awesome responsibility which they have chosen to undertake.”

NCCU Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye said the receipt of the grant is yet another example of how the university is an excellent training ground for future leaders who will advance the education system through innovative practice, research and partnerships.

“North Carolina Central University is honored to train teachers who are committed to building equity in the education field, especially among students with special needs,” Akinleye said. “This program further strengthens university efforts to provide scholars with leadership opportunities and career readiness tools, key tenets of ‘The Eagle Promise’ that empower our students to champion their future.”

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