Special ed. projects granted $2.4 million

    The Graduate School of Education (GSE) received $2.4 million in federal grants to fund two new special education projects and student scholarships in the special education graduate program.

    The new projects, The Pathways Project and Project BRAILLE, will each receive about $800,000 over a four-year period. $800,000 will also go to improve the 12-year-old Inclusive Elementary Educators Program.

    Awarded at the beginning of October, the grants were awarded after proposals for the new personal preparation projects were submitted to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in a nationally competitive process.

    ”It’s probably unusual for one university to receive three grants in one department," Paula Stanovich, project director for the Inclusive Elementary Educators Program, said. “It’s quite something to be proud of. It speaks well to the quality of the programs at Portland State."

    A stipulation in the grant says that 65 percent of the grants must go to funding scholarships. Over 135 graduate students will receive tuition support from grant money in each of the programs.

    The School of Education’s Research Center on Inclusive and Effective Education Practices (RCIEP) submitted the proposals in July, and the School of Education was informed in early October that they’d been awarded the grant. The process was laborious, Pathways project director Leslie Munson said, but the work put into it was worth the outcome.

    ”Quite a bit goes into writing a grant," Munson said. “We’re all delighted to be able to receive the funds to support students."

    The Pathways Project will begin Jan. 1 and will help increase cultural and linguistic diversity for licensed personnel who serve special needs children, Munson said. She said the increasingly diverse population in Oregon and Washington has created a need for trained cultural and linguistically diverse individuals.

    Because of this grant, 40 new teachers will be licensed through the next four years in the program.    

    Project BRAILLE was created, according to Cheryl Grindol, because of a nationwide shortage of teachers trained to instruct students with visual impairments and blindness. She said PSU is one of only seven universities in the Western United States that has this type of teacher training program.

    ”It is a critical need both in Oregon and nationwide," Grindol said.

    It is estimated that there are about 5,000 unfilled positions for teachers trained to work with visually impaired students, Grindol said, and university programs nationwide only produce approximately 215 new teachers per year.

    The program uses a distance education model that lets people participate throughout the nation. Students come to PSU for eight weeks in the summer and then may return to their home communities to work with local, licensed mentors. The grant will help fund travel costs for those students.

    ”Many people are not aware this is an extremely viable career," Grindol said. “It is lots of fun and very rewarding."

    The Inclusive Elementary Educators Program has been at PSU since 1994 and the grant money will be used to improve and tweak the already established program, Stanovich said.

    The two-year Inclusive Elementary Educators Program prepares educators with both general and special education licenses to work with elementary school children ages three to eight. The goal, according to Stanovich, is for teachers to be able to work with all students.

    The improvements to the program will decrease the number of students a teacher would have to supervise, create new workshops and generally improve the quality of the program, Stanovich said.

    The lack of support for Oregon’s higher education has made it a struggle, but Stanovich said these grants show hope.

    ”This is good news, we need to spark the dream again," Stanovich said. “We need to think big and really work towards excellence."