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PhD students seek to expand special education preparatory programs in higher education

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Krystle Merry is a PhD student in the Razorback-Sooner Scholars: Leaders for Transition (L4T) program and is geared up to better prepare future special education teachers.

Krystle Merry taught special secondary mathematics for 11 years. During this time, she noted that many educators in the school system were often untrained in special education, had high turnover, and some students did not receive consistent services to succeed after graduation. I just noticed.

Hoping to expand special education preparatory programs at institutions of higher education and equip future special education teachers with the advanced skills they need, she decided to pursue a PhD at U of A. .

“I want to help teachers in both secondary and special education, a field that deals with students with special needs and preparing them for life, especially during transition or after high school.” she said.

Mary says she had no formal training in special education prior to her PhD.

“I learned everything on the job,” she said. “There is now a great need for special education teachers in schools across the state and across the country. To increase it, in addition to advocacy and recruitment, you have to implement higher education programs.”

She fell in love with ‘teaching teachers’ during summer professional development sessions on inclusive environments, technology and special education policy. “Higher education will be the next step in my career and I hope that I will be able to reach out to more educators and get my license early in my career,” she said.

Mary is one of ten PhD students in the Razorback-Sooner Scholars: Leaders for Transition (L4T) program. Together, the U of A and the University of Oklahoma offer programs that help address the critical need of teachers who know how to use evidence-based practices to improve adult outcomes for students with disabilities. did.

She was drawn to the L4T program because of its real-world focus of helping students with disabilities both academically and through life skills.

“Most people with and without disabilities are working and growing day by day to improve their individual life skills towards independent living,” she said. “Many students and young people fresh out of high school really struggle when they lose the one-on-one support they get from school. It has significantly built my interest-specific skills, and I look to the school district, and pre-graduation families to improve long-term outcomes for students with disabilities.”

Merry’s research focuses on technology that facilitates learning for students with disabilities such as speech disorders, ADD/ADHD and other health disorders such as autism in the K-12 classroom. This technology could be anything from text-to-speech and audiobooks to AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) devices and gaze software. “Anything a student needs that allows for more inclusion with their peers,” she said. , or a universally designed learning tool beneficial to visually impaired students.”

These types of technologies can assist large student populations. “Small accommodations and accessibility features that are available to all students in the classroom can meet the needs of a wide range of students,” she said.

As part of her doctoral program, Merry is teaching an undergraduate U of A student “Inclusive Technology” class and will be teaching “Teaching Students the Exception” in the spring. She is also a field supervisor who trains teachers in special education programs.

Mary contributes to the special education community through several leadership and editorial positions. She has also taught Assistive Technology Case Law, Accessibility, Online Work-Based Learning, Digital Community Resource Mapping, Special Education Teacher Preparation, Two Exceptional Students, and Secondary Special Education Programs, including Student Transitions. He frequently presents at national conferences on the integration of technology into to post-secondary institutions and employment.

During the summer she interned at the Center for Applied Special Technologies (CAST), a nonprofit educational research and development organization. CAST has created a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework and guidelines to make learning more inclusive in K-12 and higher education. She was recently invited to continue her internship through the fall.

“I am currently segregating data from different districts and states within the county to inform CAST’s Center for Inclusive Technology and Educational Systems (CITES) leadership, teaching and learning framework,” she said. Told.

Mary eventually wants to teach special education at the college level. She plans to graduate with her PhD in 2024.

This story is the latest in a series featuring students, faculty and staff. College of Education and Health A person who embodies the core of the university WE CARE PRIORITIES. With this new initiative, the university is helping solve complex education and health challenges in Arkansas and beyond. COEHP’s online magazine, colleaguefor details from the six units that make up the University.