ORONO, Maine — A $1.2 million grant will allow the University of Maine to begin preparing more and better-qualified early intervention special education teachers to serve the increasing number of Maine children with disabilities.
The four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs is enabling the UMaine Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies and the College of Education and Human Development to collaborate in offering a master’s degree in special education with a specialization in early intervention.
The new program is designed for students who plan to work in child care centers, Head Start programs, school systems and other facilities that work with children from birth to age 5 to better prepare them for the growing population of special needs students, according to Lu Zeph, director of the Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies.
The new fifth-year master’s option is designed to “accelerate the trajectory and get highly qualified educators out there faster,” Zeph said. “It also ensures that when students do internships or practicum, they’re doing them in settings that include children with disabilities. This gives them that experience at the undergraduate level.”
Providing early intervention and addressing children’s special needs at an earlier age can have a substantial positive effect on their development, Zeph said. A child’s neurological development is most rapid from birth to age 3.
“There is a great need both nationally and in Maine for highly qualified professionals to work with young children with disabilities, birth to [age] 5,” Zeph says. “This project also emphasizes understanding and accommodating high-needs children and families. Not only are we looking to prepare early educators to work with children with disabilities and their families, but in particular those who are underserved — such as children who live in poverty, are homeless, and those who live in rural and remote areas where access to specialized services is limited.”
UMaine students now in early childhood education can begin applying this month and will begin the program in the 2011 spring semester. Recruitment for practicing professionals will begin in early 2011.