Lander University has received a $130,000 grant from the South Carolina Office of Exceptional Children for its participation in a program designed to help fill a critical need for special education teachers in the state. The program is called Project CREATE, or Centers for the Re-Education and Advancement of Teachers in Special Education.
Students enrolled in Lander University's Project CREATE are, front row, from left: Janelle Copeland and Sally Latham, Greenwood School District 50; Rico Salliewhite, McCormick County School District;, and Doris Power, Abbeville High School. Back row, from left: Dr. Dava O'Connor, chair of Lander's Department of Teacher Education and supervisor of CREATE; Amy Frederick and Sally Lightsey, Greenwood District 50; Michelle Martin, Honea Path Elementary School; Kaysha Hill, Greenwood District 50; and Bryan Ross, Greenwood District 51.
Dr. Dava O'Connor, chair of Lander's Department of Teacher Education, who also supervises the university's CREATE program, said Lander joined CREATE in 2006. Lander and 12 other public and private colleges were selected based on their initial certification in special education, highly qualified faculty, geographic diversification and willingness to offer innovative programs.
O'Connor said this year's grant is more than double what the university received in its first year, and she described the increase as a reward. "Grants are based on performance the previous year, and the total determines the number of course awards." Grants are used for scholarships and to help students pay for tuition and textbooks.
CREATE helps special education teachers who have restricted certification to upgrade to full certification. It also accepts qualified full-time public school paraprofessionals working in nonteaching positions who want to pursue careers as special education teachers.
Randy Vaughn, assistant superintendent for Human Resources in Greenwood School District 50, describes CREATE as one of the best tools for school administrators to find and hire special education professionals. He added, "The program has been a blessing for paraprofessionals because it has allowed them to pursue a degree with certification while not having to give up their regular jobs."
Nine paraprofessionals and one school administrative employee are enrolled in Lander's program.
Kaysha Hill, a teacher's assistant in District 50, has a noneducation bachelor's degree. She said the Lander program is helping her achieve her goal of becoming a teacher and she can coordinate her studies with her work schedule and responsibilities as a single parent.
Doris Power, a special education paraprofessional at Abbeville High School, said, "Project CREATE has given me an opportunity to get a bachelor's degree and fulfill my dream of becoming a special education teacher."
Janelle Copeland, a paraprofessional at Mathews Elementary School in Greenwood 50, said she hopes to become better equipped to work with exceptional children and their families so their dreams may be realized, too.
Since 2007, 13 paraprofessionals have completed Project CREATE requirements at Lander and received initial certification as special education teachers.
O'Connor said to qualify for the program, applicants must satisfy academic requirements and agree to work as special education teachers in South Carolina for three years or longer.
According to O'Connor, Lander's Department of Teacher Education works actively with paraprofessionals in the Western Piedmont Education Consortium made up of school districts in Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood, McCormick, Newberry and Saluda.