Education project tied to FHSU's Virtual College program

Hoping to benefit many Kansas elementary school districts, Teachers for Tomorrow will use a four-year $400,000 grant for certifying teachers with an interest in special education.

Instructors from Fort Hays State University, Barton County Community College, Colby Community College and Cloud County Community College gathered in FHSU's Black and Gold Room in the Memorial Union Feb. 28 to focus on the grant.

"The Teachers for Tomorrow grant establishes a partnership between Fort Hays State University and three community colleges: Colby, Cloud County and Barton County," said Dr. Tom Newton, chair of the Department of Teacher Education. "Through the partnership we will be positioned to deliver a degree in elementary education with an endorsement in special education to 40 para-educators."

Jinny Walz, Hutchinson, co-director of Teachers for Tomorrow, reported at FHSU that in the 2002-2003 school year an estimated 60,738, or 12 percent, of children in Kansas have special needs.
Since the need for special education teachers has been on the increase throughout Kansas, the conference focus was how to distribute the remaining $300,000 to train paraprofessionals in special education co-ops. In the first year of the program, $100,000 was used for planning.

The TFT grant will allow 40 new teachers to become fully licensed. The money would be equally distributed over three years, $100,000 per year, to pay for about half of the tuition costs involved in certifying the participants.

The majority of the new educators will receive a bachelor's degree in elementary education with an endorsement in special education. Since a few of the new instructors already hold a bachelor's degree in a secondary education field, their scholarship will pay part of the tuition for a master's degree so that they can be licensed in special education at the secondary level.

"The challenge addressed in this project is to recruit, prepare and retain fully licensed special educators in rural and urban areas," said Karen Pahls, co-director.

"Key partners in this endeavor are 10 special education cooperatives in north central and northwest Kansas -- Fort Hays State University and three regional community colleges: Barton County Community College, Cloud County Community College and Colby Community College," she said.

"We look forward to continuing close relationships with Colby, Cloud County and Barton County Community Colleges," Newton said. "The arrangements that are being developed by the partners in this grant will support ongoing collaborative programs to benefit students throughout northwestern and central Kansas."

The collaboration of near-by colleges would allow the para-educators to attend "delivery sites" that will be no further than 60 minutes from their town.

The sites would allow the teachers to attend classes that are offered through the Virtual College and would also allow for participation with college faculty and other special education teachers.

"In addition, a survey indicates that as many as 100 more para-educators will take advantage of the program because of the convenience of having it delivered to the outreach sites," Newton said.

Several classes offered via the Virtual College will be taught online or through ITV. The community colleges' classes will provide early coursework for an associate's degree while FHSU's Virtual College will provide a setting where more advanced coursework can be delivered.

"This collaborative, multi-component project is designed to overcome the barriers of accessing traditional college curricula by individualizing undergraduate, pre-service, special education programs," Pahls said.

"It was a natural connection for Fort Hays State University to be the university to provide coursework for the grant because we have an excellent academic program; we have just developed a new endorsement program in special education; we have the experience in delivering coursework at a distance through the Virtual College; and we are willing to take on new challenges," Newton said.

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