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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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$600,000 grant supports special education teacher training

Because of a shortage of trained and licensed special education professionals, many teachers who instruct children with disabilities have no special training for the job. Now New Mexico State University has funding to provide that training to New Mexico and west Texas teachers through a master's degree program.

Beginning this fall a three-year federal grant of about $600,000 supports NMSU's Project COLAB, which aims to enroll 25 teachers at NMSU. They will work toward interdisciplinary master's degrees in special education, elementary education or secondary education with a minor in bilingual education through the College of Education. The project targets teachers working on waivers as emergency hires in the public schools. The federal grant will help pay the teachers' tuition, textbook and travel expenses.

"This project will help improve the quality and appropriateness of instruction and increase the number of licensed people teaching children with disabilities," said Elissa Wolfe Poel, Project COLAB coordinator and a college assistant professor of special education.

Project COLAB, which takes its name from the word collaboration, also seeks 50 mentors -- New Mexico teachers who hold licenses in special education or general education. Mentor teachers will team up to support those seeking master's degrees. The mentors also will earn university credits toward licensure in such areas as bilingual education, Teaching English as a Second Language, school administration, counseling and education, or educational diagnostics. They will receive financial support for tuition and books.

In New Mexico there is a great need for trained special education teachers, according to Project COLAB director Anne Gallegos, an NMSU professor of special education. Of the New Mexico teachers working on waivers, about 30 percent are in special education, she said.

Project COLAB includes a mentoring program because having a mentor can be critical to the success of teachers, particularly those working on waivers, Gallegos said. "The teaching profession loses many of our people who don't have some system of support."

Project COLAB is funded through a Teacher Preparation grant supported by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. For more information persons may call Elissa Wolfe Poel at (505) 646-5971, or send an e-mail to her at epoel@nmsu.edu.

Rita A. Popp
August 25, 2000