California State University, Long Beach
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Grant to Help Train School Psychologists, Special Educators

Published: July 1, 2015

CSULB’s Kristin Powers and Edwin Achola from the College of Education recently received $1.25 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs to support a project to train 10 school psychologists and 15 special educators. The funding will stretch over five years with the focus being in Long Beach area high schools.

A panel of independent reviewers rated the proposal from Powers and Achola as No. 3 out of 64 submitted for consideration.

“It’s very unusual for a first-time proposal to be funded,” said Powers, a professor in the Department of Advanced Studies in Education and Counseling. “Ours was kind of unique because it’s an interdisciplinary training grant that combines school psychology students and special education students.”

Selected students will pair up and be placed with a special education teacher at a high school to do a year-long practical. Ideally, CSULB students will learn from that teacher and, in turn, help that teacher improve their transition planning skills.

The project goal is to increase the number of culturally competent school psychologists and special educators who are highly qualified to implement and assist in the implementation of evidence-based, culturally-responsive transition practices to meet personnel shortages and gaps in services provided by current school psychologists and special educators. The skills needed will be attained through intense research-based coursework, conference participation, and clinic and school-based fieldwork. Students from underrepresented cultural and linguistic groups as well as students with disabilities will be recruited to participate in the project.

Why is this important?

For one, the most recent workforce estimate indicates that 9,000 practicing school psychologists are needed nationwide, yet only 1,900 school psychologists complete graduate programs in school psychology annually. Current data from the California Board of Education Statistics indicates 4,585 school psychologists in the state serve 6,217,002 students—that’s a 1:1,355 ratio. The National Association of School Psychologists recommends a 1:500 to 700 ratio.

“The need has been there a long time,” said Powers. “We’ve both seen it while doing research independently on transition. For many students the transition to adulthood is complicated and individuals with disabilities are more vulnerable to fall between the cracks. That’s why transition planning is supposed to occur, to stop that from happening.”

“Some of the studies I’ve looked at recently show that teachers don’t feel confident to develop plans that work for the populations we are targeting,” added Achola, an assistant professor in the Department of Advanced Studies in Education and Counseling. “We’re looking to address that. In Long Beach we have very diverse populations so we are trying to add that cultural component and are training teachers to develop plans that work for students and families who are culturally diverse.”

Powers noted that CSULB is helped by the fact it has a solid working relationship with some administrators within the Long Beach Unified School District, who definitely think there is room for improvement.

“We want teachers who see the benefits of this kind of training to improve their transition plans and at the same time we’re training future teachers and school psychologists in best practices,” she said. “It’s kind of a two-for-one. Through our students, we’re bringing professional development to teachers and our students get a unique training experience as they become special education teachers and school psychologists.”

A key element of the project includes training teachers to be more culturally responsive when working with students and their families on establishing appropriate future goals for the students.

Kristin Powers (l) and Edwin Achola

“We can break it down into two components,” said Achola. “We want teachers to be able to develop working relationships with families who are culturally diverse. Then, based on those relationships, they can develop plans that are more likely to lead to better outcomes for children from culturally diverse backgrounds.”

Another of the project’s main goals is to recruit graduate students who otherwise might not be able to attend CSULB—maybe due to limited finances—into the fields of special education and school psychology. Therefore, Powers and Achola are speaking with groups who are under-represented and culturally-diverse about the fields of special education and school psychology.

To qualify for the program, candidates must apply to the special education program by July 10 and applicants must have a bachelor’s degree and an interest in working with kids with disabilities. The first cohort will be made up of five special education and five school psychology students, with the latter group having already been selected from a pool of more than 100 applicants.

Through the grant, individuals accepted into the program receive $16,000 the first year to cover tuition, books and some living expenses. Every year thereafter the student will receive $13,000. Those selected must participate in the training grant which means spending at least one day a week at a high school serving transition-aged students with disabilities, attending bi-weekly seminars, speaking with one group of potential applicants about the program each semester, and attending the Council for Exceptional Children Division on Career Development and Transition annual conference. During the second and third year on the grant, the graduate students will participate in a systems-wide transition improvement project in order to gain skills in implementing evidence-based transition services on a large scale.

“I think one of the exciting takeaways from this is the interdisciplinary work across two programs, which is not always easy to do,” said Powers. “I think it’s a real strength because we are training educators to go out and collaborate in schools.”

Anyone interested in applying the special education component of this grant or hosting trainees of the grant in their high school special education classroom can contact Achola by e-mail or call 562/985-7889.