VKC Members awarded $2.48M in special education training grants

Left: Alex Da Fonte headshot. Right: Rachel Schles headshot.

Two Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC) Members within the Department of Special Education at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development received two training grants totaling $2.48 million in funding from the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education. The new grants address the need to train culturally conscientious special education teachers of students with high intensity needs. One of the grants will support training for teachers of students with limited or no functional speech. The other grant will support training for teachers of students with visual impairments. Both grants seek to recruit candidates from historically underrepresented groups or with a unique interest in supporting students from culturally and linguistic diverse backgrounds.

Alex Da Fonte headshot

Alexandra Da Fonte, Ph.D.

Training on AACcessbility by Building Linguistic Knowledge in Culturally Responsive Practices (TALK)

Principal Investigator: Alexandra Da Fonte, Ph.D., associate professor of the Practice of Special Education

As schools face shortages of personnel, they urgently need special education teachers trained to serve students and families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. This project will train scholars on culturally responsive augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) practices to enhance services and outcomes for students with limited or no functional speech. Scholars will explore the unique developmental and learning characteristics of students from underrepresented groups, grounding their training in the role of culture on language, communication, social, and literacy skills. This training will provide scholars knowledge and competencies on evidence-based practices to improve the outcomes for their students.

Twenty-three scholars will be recruited to the severe disabilities master’s degree program in special education. They will engage in AAC-related coursework, field experiences, and enhanced learning opportunities to effectively increase the communication, social, academic, and overall outcomes of students with high intensity needs from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Rachel Schles headshot

Rachel Schles, Ph.D.

Redefining Intersectional Special Education to Prepare Culturally Competent and Conscientious Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments (Project RISE-TVIs)

Principal Investigator: Rachel Schles, Ph.D., assistant professor of the Practice of Special Education

Across the country, schools are seeing significant shortages of teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs). Project RISE-TVIs will provide high-quality and rigorous training for scholars to become TVIs through the visual disabilities teacher training program. Project RISE-TVIs is designed so that working teachers can successfully complete the program at a part-time pace, alongside traditional full-time master’s degree students. The innovative design of Project RISE-TVIs will make the training program accessible to a wide scope of candidates, particularly scholars from underrepresented groups.

Eighteen RISE-TVIs scholars will train on culturally relevant teaching practices to support students with visual impairments. At the end of their program, scholars will receive an endorsement in visual impairments special education and a master’s degree in special education.

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