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### Teaching UCF Graduate Scholars to Support Students with High-Intensity Language and Literacy Needs

UCF has been awarded an interdisciplinary personnel preparation grant from the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education to continue offering a program tailored to equip students with the essential and in-demand skills necessary to assist children with high-intensity needs, including those dealing with autism, dyslexia, and various language disorders and learning disabilities. This grant covers the tuition expenses for a specialized graduate certificate program intended for students pursuing degrees in exceptional student education or communication sciences and disorders.

In a collaboration between UCF and the , this initiative aims to address the shortage of fully qualified special educators and speech-language pathologists in local Central Florida school districts. Recent data from the Florida Department of Education indicates that 19% of students with disabilities were taught by uncertified teachers during the 2021-22 academic year, a notable increase from 12% in 2018-19. Moreover, statistics show that nearly 27% of special education teacher positions and 5% of speech-language pathologist positions were vacant during the 2022-23 school year.

The program at UCF trains students as intervention specialists, enabling them to earn a certificate in interdisciplinary language and literacy intervention. This innovative approach aims to enhance collaboration between ESE teacher leaders and speech-language pathologists, ensuring effective instruction and interventions in language and literacy for students with high-intensity needs in educational settings.

Project SPEECH 2.0, similar to its predecessor, will fund the tuition fees for approximately 40 students enrolled in the certificate program over the next five years, with a mandatory service obligation upon completion. Scholars receiving funding are required to dedicate 51% of their time or caseload to working with children with disabilities each year. Many graduates choose to pursue careers in school settings following their participation in the program.

The upcoming cohort for Project SPEECH 2.0 is set to commence in January 2024. The 36-credit hour certificate curriculum combines coursework with practical learning experiences, including specialized classes covering topics such as reading proficiencies development, diagnostic assessment and intervention in special education, strategies for addressing reading and writing disabilities, and professional collaboration in language and literacy.

Through a hands-on approach, students apply their acquired knowledge and skills by working with youth enrolled in specialized speech and language programs offered by UCF, including an intensive summer camp for children. This experiential learning method equips students with the necessary expertise to effectively support children requiring additional assistance with reading instruction, preparing them for future roles as special education teachers and school-based speech-language pathologists.

Project SPEECH has successfully graduated 46 students to date, with many transitioning into careers within local school districts. An additional seven students are expected to complete the program by December 2024 as the first cohort concludes their studies.

In addition to providing students with the requisite skills for success in a field where speech-language pathologists are in high demand, the service obligation component aligns with the job market conditions students are likely to encounter post-graduation. A survey conducted by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in 2022 revealed that 50% of speech-language pathologists are employed in school settings.

Shanese Campbell ’19, a speech-language pathologist working with children from preschool through eighth grade in St. Lucie County schools, acknowledges the invaluable preparation gained through Project SPEECH. Campbell highlights the comprehensive knowledge acquired, including expertise in Individualized Education Plans, tiered interventions, and interdisciplinary collaboration, which have been instrumental in her professional practice.

Nancy McIntyre, assistant professor in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, and Elsie Olan, associate professor in the School of Teacher Education, serve as co-principal investigators alongside Mary Little and Debra Knox on this transformative project.