Serving students with disabilities and high needs
The University of Texas at Arlington will cross-train graduate students interested in social work and special education to better serve grade-school children with disabilities and high needs.
Over the next five years, UTA’s College of Education and School of Social Work will use a $1.08 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs to create an interdisciplinary master's-level personnel preparation cohort.
Ambra Green, assistant professor of special education, is principal investigator of the project, called Match Made in Schools: Special Educators and Social Workers Enhancing Services for Students with Disabilities and High-Intensity Needs. She is optimistic the collaboration will fill a need in Texas for more special education teachers and social workers.
“This is a big deal for the state of Texas because it impacts students with disabilities in the midst of statewide efforts to improve their services. Our work is both for them and with them and their families,” Green said. “We want UTA to be a leader in these fields, and this grant will not only prepare professionals but also change the trajectory of students with disabilities.”
Jandel Crutchfield, assistant professor in the School of Social Work and co-investigator, is hopeful the program will enable future special education teachers and social workers to become advocates for students from early childhood through the 12th grade.
“Special education teachers and social workers serve alongside each other to support students who are at risk of educational failure,” Crutchfield said. “They often work side-by-side without knowing how to fully complement each other’s skills. I think this grant is phenomenal because it helps tackle issues of equity in education through an interdisciplinary approach.”
The program will better prepare professionals in both fields to serve families and students in high-need schools and with high-intensity needs. Special education and social work preservice students at UTA will take classes and train in the field together to learn the skills to support students and their families for educational success and their overall well-being.
“There is significant overlap between these two fields,” said John Romig, assistant professor in the College of Education and co-investigator. “Special education graduates of this program will be better prepared to collaborate with social workers to meet the mental health needs of children with disabilities, and social workers will be better prepared to engage in the special education system.”
Kelby Bolton, a 25-year-old small business owner in Baton Rouge, La., said she believes school-age children would greatly benefit from professionals who are properly trained and who care. Back in 2010, when Bolton was a high school sophomore, a social worker was able to help her navigate some troubling years.
“I think a lot of kids could benefit from having someone to check in on them who has been trained in social work and special education, teaching them invaluable coping skills about dealing with life’s problems,” Bolton said. “Now more than ever, their capacity for caring about the well-being of others is a much-needed source of healing in this world.”