Cal Poly’s College of Education was awarded a $777,000 grant to better its special education program, which will instruct future teachers on how to best work with disabled students.

The U.S. Department of Education presented the personal preparation grant to be given over a period of four years. The grant is designated to assist teacher candidates, who are full-time students enrolled in the special education credential program. Teacher candidates in the program will be eligible to receive up to $8,000 to cover tuition, books and stipends.

“Having the funding to support them (students) is important, because after four years of study most people have run up bills,” said Mike Ruef, co-coordinator of the special education program and associate professor in the College of Education. “They have tapped-out in terms of what their parents will support them with, and they really need to go to work so this allows them to really get that extra training at no additional expense.”

The program gives students the opportunity to gain student-teaching experience while earning a credential and a master’s degree in special education in one year.

“There’s a drastic shortage of special education teachers across the United States. But across California, in particular, people with B.A.’s are being called ’emergency credentials,’” Ruef said. “A lot of people who aren’t adequately trained in special education actually burn out and drop out of the teaching profession within five years.”

Cal Poly’s training program prepares teachers on how to best work with students and adults with disabilities.

“Our focus is really how to help our special education teachers be good teachers as well as good collaborators with educators, with families and with other individuals who support students with special needs,” said Dr. Kathleen C. Harris, co-coordinator of the special education program and assistant professor in the College of Education.

The special education program is new to the College of Education.

“Supporting kids with learning challenges is not just a one-person job,” said Ruef. “It involves a collaborating among adults and that element is missing from many teaching training programs. They get the didactic and coursework, but they don’t get hands-on practice in how to work with other adults to support kids with disabilities in their classrooms. Our program melds coursework and fieldwork though a system of mentors of teachers and our students, giving them not only the theoretical expertise but the practical as well.”

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