BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Western Kentucky University recently received a 1.1 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education. The grant was given in response to the national and statewide shortage of educators certified to help K-12 students with high-intensity disabilities.
In response, WKU has launched its PREP — Preparing Rural Educators and Professionals — program to help train and license students currently studying Special Education or Speech Pathology. The five-semester program will admit thirty students and will give them a combination of graduate course work and fieldwork to obtain a comprehensive knowledge of how to properly aid and educate students with high functioning disabilities.
“Both speech-language pathologists and teachers work with individuals that have high-intensity needs; This project is kind of meant to get them together and have them learn a little bit about each other’s profession and be more skilled and more credentialed when working with kids,” says PREP Project director, Christina Noel.
The money received from the grant will aid in recruiting, seminars and scholarships for students accepted into the program. The university is also able to invest in new technology that Noel says will help break down barriers and provide better access to the program.
“I don’t physically have to be in the classroom with you watching you teach a lesson, I can be there remotely and give you feedback that way.” While the number of Kentucky students with high functioning disabilities is less than 1% many undergraduate students have a passion for the work. Keeping teachers in Kentucky as well as teaching in rural communities is one of the many goals of the program.
Morgantown Elementary teacher, Taylor Colvin is currently a moderate to severe disabilities teacher for students K-5. She found her love for teaching back in high school when she first began working with special education students. Since then she’s gotten her Education degree from WKU and is proud to see the initiative by the university to put resources towards programs like Project PREP.
“The disabilities are increasing right now and so I think it helps when you have all of your resources so that you can give all that instruction that you need and show that individualized attention to every student,” says Colvin.
Students in the program will have a chance to gain hands-on experience with students in a classroom and Colvin says the best advice is to “Go everywhere and get your life surrounded by those with disabilities so that when you get into a school you’re more comfortable and you have a love for them already and um I think that’s the main thing for me and then I guess just know that celebrate small victories.”
Students can apply to the program through the WKU Graduate School, until March 1, 2020. PREP will be admitting its first cohort this fall. For information on the project e-mail ProjectPREP@wku.edu.