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December Grads Include Three Uniquely Trained to Help Special Education Students with Communication Needs

photo of students in special education and communication disorders combined program practicing techniques in class
Students in special education and communication disorders combined program

Among December’s University of Kentucky College of Education graduates are three students who completed a program uniquely preparing school personnel who work with students with moderate and severe disabilities.

Though not typically trained together, a grant UK received from the U.S. Department of Education allows teachers in the special education field to study in a combined master’s level program with speech-language pathology students. This month’s graduates were in the first cohort of special education students accepted into the master’s program, known as the Special Education and Communication-Interdisciplinary Training (SPEAC-IT) grant.

Teachers and speech therapists in the program learn to develop skills for collaboratively solving communication challenges for students in special education classrooms.

Molly Baldridge, a special education teacher at Harrison Elementary in Fayette County, credited the collaborative nature of the program with helping her gain a better understanding of how to reach students with complex communication needs.

“It was eye opening to see that often we all have the same goals for students, we are just trained to get there in different ways,” Baldridge said. “This grant provided an opportunity to have those open conversations about what we do and why we do it and how much more meaningful student outcomes can be when we do it together. It’s always good to get to know points of view other than your own and I think that is a great benefit of how this program is designed.”

Faculty collaborating on the grant include two from the UK College of Education Department of Early Childhood, Special Education, and Counselor Education – Dr. Margaret Bausch, a professor and associate dean for research and graduate student success, and Dr. Melinda Ault, associate professor. They work with Dr. Judith Page, associate professor in the College of Health Sciences Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. Speech-language pathology master’s students from the first cohort of the grant program have coursework remaining and will graduate upon its completion.

The students attended shared classes and had shadowing opportunities. They also gained hands-on experience using assistive technologies found in school settings.

Brandy Denton, a special education teacher at Hawthorne Elementary in Jefferson County, works with individuals with the most significant disabilities to advocate for them and be their voice.

“Most of them need that advocate to be understood and heard,” Denton said. “The SPEAC-IT program provided me with skills to teach my students how to communicate and use their own voice so that I can teach them to be their own advocates throughout their lives.”

Denton said she picked up skills in the program that help her understand current research and best practices to teach a unique population of students.

“My students teach me to see life through a different lens,” she said. “All the small achievements lead to huge achievements. I truly believe there is no other career that truly allows a professional to slow down in the moment and see life through this lens.”

For information on degrees in special education, visit https://education.uky.edu/edsrc/.