Breaking down the silos of public and higher education for the benefit of learners with disabilities with high-intensity needs is the mission behind a new East Carolina University graduate cohort involving multiple colleges. Project CONVEY (Collaborating to Overcome Needs by improving the Voice of Exceptional Youth) is funded by a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education for this mission. The project involves faculty from the ECU College of Education Department of Special Education, Foundations, and Research, the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences Department of Psychology, and the College of Allied Health Sciences Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.
“Our goal is to prepare graduate students to be K-12 professionals working with learners with disabilities within their specialties … but also be prepared to collaborate across disciplines,” said Dr. Sandra Warren, a professor in the College of Education Department of Special Education, Foundations, and Research, and principal investigator.”
Project CONVEY will support four cohorts during the five-year span of the grant. Each cohort will consist of 12 graduate students — six from special education, three from psychology, and three from speech-language pathology (CSDI).
Funding from Project CONVEY will cover full in-state tuition for each cohort scholar, and provides unique training and development opportunities in addition to their graduate coursework. In return, each member of the cohort is required to work in public schools with students with disabilities for two years for every one year of support. Geographically, the graduates can work anywhere in the United States or overseas through the U.S. Department of Defense, provided it is in a public school setting.
Dr. Marianna Walker, associate professor in the College of Allied Health Sciences Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and co-principal investigator, said the hope is to attract more of these professionals to public schools.
“Convincing [speech-language pathologists] to work in schools is important, so I’m hoping this will be a catalyst to get not only the CONVEY scholars to think about it, but maybe also encourage other students who are not even in the program,” Walker said. “The focus of this project is to create a unified and collaborative team of special educators, school psychologists, and speech-language pathologists to work with children that have high-intensity needs.”
The first CONVEY cohort scholars met for the first time during a summer institute on ECU’s West Campus June 18-22. Warren said the institute served as a way for to develop teaming skills and set the tone for collaboration across disciplines. Throughout the next year, the 12 scholars will receive innovative training designed by the CONVEY team to support their cross-discipline collaboration, and help learners with disabilities find their own voice and become self-determined learners.
“We are training our students to work with students with high-intensity needs, so a lot of these children have severe communication disorders and are not speaking at all or need assistance in speaking,” Walker said. “We need to provide them with a method of communication…in terms of what their needs are in general.”
Fewer than 20 grants were funded by the U.S. Department of Education out of the 100 applications, and the CONVEY team is excited to see the results.
Dr. Christy Walcott, co-principal investigator and associate professor of psychology in the Thomas Harriott College of Arts and Sciences, said interprofessional teamwork is an important aspect of this grant.
“Effective teams are crucial to serving students with high-intensity needs,” Walcott said. “School professionals, parents, and the learners themselves must work together to problem solve and help learners with disabilities plan for their futures. We hope this training grant will prepare our graduates to work together to meet common goals.”
In addition to Warren, Walker, and Walcott, the CONVEY team also includes grant evaluator Dr. Melissa Hudson, assistant professor of special education, foundations and research.
The members of the first CONVEY cohort are:
Samantha Ruppe Beard