With the encouragement of the local educational community, Siena Heights University announced it will offer a special education bachelor’s degree program beginning this fall.
Sally Rae, Director of Teacher Education at Siena Heights, said the decision was made to add special education for the 2007-08 academic year after extensive discussion with numerous local educational experts, including those from the Lenawee Intermediate School District.
“We talked with special education experts and found out how many students there are in Lenawee County who have been diagnosed with a disability of some kind,” Rae said. “We looked at the numbers, put a matrix together and found where the holes were. We concluded the area of biggest need in special education was in the field dealing with students having learning disabilities.”
The 2006 LISD audit numbers showed 18,600 total students in the Lenawee County K-12 population, with 3,379 students identified as needing special education. Those with learning disabilities were the largest group in the population report, with approximately 1,400 students. The State of Michigan’s Office of Labor Market Information indicates special education teaching positions in Michigan will increase by nearly 20 percent over the next year.
Rae said Siena Heights will begin with a bachelor’s degree level program, with a learning disabilities concentration. While other area universities offer special education programs, some programs are only offered at the master’s degree level. Also, the decision to offer a LD endorsement will allow students more career flexibility.
“Special education is one of those ‘employable majors’ Siena wants to build its academic reputation around,” said Siena Heights President Sister Peg Albert, OP, PhD. “Siena Heights is continually looking at new ways to serve the community. We know of the demand for more special education teachers, and we believe our program can help meet that demand.”
When designing the program, Rae said Siena took a practical approach.
“We started from what the students needed, then we developed courses around those needs,” Rae said. “We then went to the state standards and matched our courses up to the standards. Then, if we were still missing something, we created a course that met a standard. It would have been very easy to look at programs already out there that have state approval and say ‘Why reinvent the wheel?’ But that makes it a cookie-cutter program that is not unique. Our program is distinctive and fits the need of our local community and our students.”
Siena Heights has contracted Martha Carroll, former chair of the special education program at the University of Toledo, to design the program. Rae cited two elements of the program that will make it unique. First, a parent partnership course will help student-teachers manage and communicate with parents. The other is a collaboration piece that will have student-teachers learn about working with those in the community, schools and other services.
“Students spend a lot of money for us to work with them for four-and-a-half or five years throughout their education program,” Rae said. “And if we don’t help them graduate with the pieces it takes to teach, then we haven’t done our job.”
Siena’s program will also allow students to maximize field experience hours and will provide “hook” classes to accommodate those in education considering a special education option.
“Through their sophomore year students will have the flexibility to decide between regular education and special education with the design of this program,” Rae said.
Anticipating approval from the state, Rae said Siena Heights will begin offering the major in the fall.
“Students we have in regular education right now who want to start special education can start in the fall,” Rae said. “We are excited to get going, and the feedback from the local educational community has been outstanding.”
Siena Heights is hosting a Campus Visit Day for prospective students from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Feb. 24 in Dominican Hall on Siena’s Adrian campus. For more information on special education or any other program at Siena Heights, please call 1-800-521-0009 or 517-264-7180.