PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A new degree program that will be offered by the University of Maine at Presque Isle will benefit students with special needs and those who love teaching them.
This fall, the Presque Isle college will offer a new associate degree designed to prepare, and provide quality training opportunities for, individuals who want to work in the special education field as teacher aides in the state.
The university is offering the state’s first special education paraprofessional associate of arts degree. The new degree will prepare students to work as teacher aides-educational technicians — also known as special education paraprofessionals — in kindergarten through grade 12 classrooms throughout the state. The degree is aimed at satisfying federal mandates for “highly qualified personnel” in the field of special education, under both the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004.
Dr. William Breton is the assistant professor of special education and special education program coordinator at UMPI. He helped to create the new degree at the college and said Monday afternoon that he began looking at the issue of special education in the state early last year.
“I surveyed a sample of educational technicians and paraprofessionals in the state,” he said. “What I found is that the majority of the sample said they were ill-prepared to work with kids with disabilities when they were originally hired. I did some additional research and found out that this is pretty common across the country, which inspired the new program.”
The new UMPI program will focus on how to instruct students with disabilities and other special needs, how to integrate technology in the classroom for these students, and how to apply the principles of effective classroom management and individualized behavior interventions with these students.
“We have been working on developing this program for a year now,” Breton said. “It was approved by the [University of Maine System] board of trustees in June.”
Breton said that he feels the new degree will attract three types of people — traditional students just out of high school who hope to teach children with disabilities, displaced workers who want to learn how to work with children with disabilities, and existing paraprofessionals and educational technicians who want to become more informed on how to work with these youth. Courses will be offered online and in the classroom, and if there is enough interest, UMPI will look at developing regional programming, such as at its Houlton outreach center.
“I think this is a very important degree to offer because many studies have indicated that it is these paraprofessionals and ed techs who have primary teaching responsibilities for the most challenging students,” he said. “Now we can offer them the courses and the specialized skills they need to do it through this degree program.”
Students who enter the new degree program will be able to take part in supervised field experiences so they better understand the duties of educational technicians. They also will meet the requirements for certification as an Educational Technician II from the Maine Department of Education. Students who complete the degree will be able to transfer into UMPI’s bachelor’s degree programs in education or special education.
Don Zillman, the president of UMPI, agreed that the new degree program would meet a long-stated need in the region.
“What we have heard from special education teacher aides throughout Maine is that there is a very real need for more-focused education and training opportunities before they get into public school classrooms so that they are prepared and have the skills they need to work with students with special needs,” he said. “We’ve cre-ated this new associate’s degree to meet that need and we are very much looking forward to graduating students who will be able to serve as highly qualified special education personnel at schools both here in Aroostook County and throughout the state.”
For more information about the new program, contact Breton at 768-9413.