Fontbonne University has been awarded a $1.25 million federal grant earmarked for special education teacher training. It’s aimed at addressing a shortage of special education teachers in Missouri, Illinois and 44 other states.
The private, Catholic university, based in Clayton, will use the funding to provide scholarships to 40 graduate students in its speech-language pathology and deaf education programs over the next five years.
Jenna Voss, an assistant professor of deaf education at Fontbonne, said it’s especially difficult for rural schools to find speech and deaf education specialists.
“St. Louis is a sort of rich educational setting for children who are deaf and hard-of-hearing who listen and talk,” Voss said. “But where there are gaps are not as far as an hour outside of St. Louis in all directions — in Illinois and sort of west on 44, Franklin County. There are often unfilled, posted positions.”
“There’s a huge need for professionals prepared to work with children who are deaf and hard of hearing,” she added. “We get calls every year from school-based practitioners and early-intervention programs saying, like when are your grads coming? We need them in Iowa, we need them in rural regions.”
Still, without graduates from Fontbonne and Washington University’s speech and deaf education programs, the need for professionals in those fields would quickly skyrocket in St. Louis and St. Louis County as well. That’s the opinion of Robin Feder of the Central Institute for the Deaf, which teaches spoken language to children under the age of 12 who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Central Institute for the Deaf is one of the local organizations that provides practicums for Fontbonne’s graduate students.
“For (Fontbonne) to have this grant is a huge opportunity for us as we will undoubtedly be looking for more staff,” Feder said. She added that the grant is especially beneficial for her organization because it focuses on training educators to work with families and young children.
Feder said Central Institute for the Deaf’s fastest growing program is for children from birth to 3 years old.
“That program for us has grown by 28 percent just in the last two years, so we need new staff constantly to meet the needs of the families and their young babies,” Feder said.
Both Fontbonne and Washington University have received similar special education training grants from the U.S. Department of Education in the past. But this grant is unique because it focuses on teamwork between speech pathologists and deaf educators.
Voss said graduate students will be better prepared to work in the field by practicing working together — and better able to recognize when they’re outside their expertise and seek help.
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