BY ELLER ROSSETTI
DENTON (UNT), Texas — A new University of North Texas grant project called Project Start — or Systematic Training for Autism Teachers — will provide on-the-job coaching and full scholarships to special education teachers who are seeking master’s degrees in special education with a concentration in autism intervention, thanks to a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
Over five years, about 40 teachers are expected to be trained through the program, housed within the Department of Educational Psychology in UNT’s College of Education. The first cohort of 21 students is expected to begin the program in January 2014, and a second cohort of 19 will begin in 2016. Priority will be given to those who teach in high-need schools as well as school districts that are UNT’s partners for professional development of teachers. Students must commit to teaching special education for five years after finishing the degree program.
“Autism prevalence is increasing to as much as one in 50 children, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report,” said Smita Mehta, associate professor of special education and principal investigator of the grant. “Because of this higher prevalence rate, there is no question that every special education teacher will be teaching students with autism — so it is critical that autism educators be systematically trained in implementing evidence-based practices with students with autism. We are preparing a cadre of teachers who can help students in high-need schools and share their skills with other teachers, too.”
A professional clinical supervisor with a graduate degree in special education and certification in applied behavior analysis will provide on-the-job coaching to the UNT students to help them learn specific skills and competencies tied with specific courses.
“With on-the-job coaching, these teachers will become so effective that children with autism in high-needs school districts will have a better shot at meeting their personal and life goals,” Mehta said.
In addition, the program will pay for:
- Students’ books
- Travel to state and national conferences
- A series of intensive workshops on autism intervention
Summer courses will be taught at the UNT Kristin Farmer Autism Center, which provides families a resource for comprehensive autism spectrum disorders treatment, research and support.
Program officials will measure the progress of both the UNT students funded through Project STArT and the K-12 students whom they teach to provide results to the U.S. Department of Education. Click here to see if you meet the requirements to become a Certified Autism Specialist