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Leadership Training in High Need Students with Severe Disabilities/Autism


In this Leadership Training grant, we address the need to increase the numbers of well-qualified higher education faculty who have the skills and knowledge to improve research, teacher training, and educational outcomes for high-need students identified with severe disabilities or autism in grades K-12, including secondary transition programs. There is often a mismatch between the cultural characteristics and background of special education personnel and that of students attending high-need schools. Researchers, teacher-trainers, and service providers need to learn strategies to address the needs of these students, as well as to develop the competencies to work collaboratively with high-need schools and personnel.

Consistent with Competitive Preference Priority 1, our proposed program reflects a long-established relationship with a high-need LEA. Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (Metro) is an urban school district of 76,000 students, of which 80% are identified as low-income. Beyond enrolling in coursework, each semester scholars will complete an internship in a high-need, low performing Metro school or research site under the supervision of a Vanderbilt faculty mentor and collaborating school personnel. Internship experiences will rotate across research, teaching, and service opportunities and will be based on an adaptation of Metro's High-Poverty Youth service-learning program established and implemented by PI Hughes for over five years. Vanderbilt students enrolled in the class will work with students with severe disabilities in high-poverty schools, while meeting in class to learn about the effects of poverty on youth. We will adapt the course as semester-long internship experiences accompanied by bi-monthly seminars that address issues related to poverty, severe disabilities, intellectual disabilities, autism, school reform, instructional strategies (including universal design for learning), research methods, teacher-training, and service provision. Unique features of our training program include:

• Hands-on experiences in high-need schools via internships supervised by Vanderbilt faculty mentors and in collaboration with school personnel;

• Collaboration with experts in autism, intellectual disabilities, severe disabilities, and research methodology through internships with Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Investigators;

• Rotating internships and seminars that address competency-building across research, teaching, and service experiences;

• Coursework in various research methods and content areas to build skills to complete doctoral program milestones in a timely fashion;

• Research collaborations with Special Education faculty that result in high-quality publications leading to academic careers in Special Education.

Students in the program will benefit from the abundant resources and opportunities available at Vanderbilt University. We expect our graduates to assume special education professorships and leadership positions that utilize their skills in research, teacher-training, and working with students with severe disabilities/autism from high-poverty schools. We anticipate 11 Ph.D. graduates from the program and have dedicated 87% of total annual funding for student support. We will recruit students from traditionally under-represented groups and provide these students with the highest-quality, multi-disciplinary training.