A new graduate certificate program is designed to prepare future special education teachers and speech-language pathologists through interdisciplinary learning to improve language and literacy services and outcomes for children with disabilities with high-intensity needs. The program is a partnership between UCF’s College of Community Innovation and Education and the College of Health Professions and Sciences.

The program is called Project SPEECH, and stands for Speech-Language Pathologists and Exceptional Educators Collaboration for Children with High-Intensity Needs. It will begin this summer and is currently taking applications.

Students accepted into the program will receive tuition assistance thanks to federal funding from the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education for up to 36 credit hours, including fees and tuition.

Students accepted into the program will receive tuition assistance thanks to federal funding from the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education for up to 36 credit hours, including fees and tuition.

This amount of support pays for a significant amount of the degreed program. In addition to working toward their degreed programs, graduate scholars will earn a graduate certificate in interdisciplinary language and literacy intervention. The courses for the certificate fulfill elective requirements.

Students who are accepted for funding are required to fulfill a service obligation. For each year of funding received, scholars are required to work with students with disabilities for at least 51 percent of their time or 51 percent of their caseload in a school setting. The project is funded for five years and will include up to 46 scholars throughout the course of the program.

Students in the program will be trained as interventionist specialists to serve students with high-intensity needs through the implementation of evidence-based strategies and practices. The program includes 10 Central Florida school districts where scholars can implement the skills and knowledge gained in school settings. The courses meet standards and competencies from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and the Council for Exceptional Children.

“This program is aimed at addressing the shortage of fully qualified special educators and speech-language pathologists in our school districts,” said Linda I. Rosa-Lugo, a co-principal investigator on the project and speech-language pathologist. “By bringing these two groups of students together, they learn critical knowledge and skills from each other that support them in their role.”

Children with high-intensity needs require specialized intervention in language and literacy. Through collaborative and specialized instruction across two programs, scholars who participate in this project will gain the competencies needed to work with students with a variety of disabilities who need sustained interventions to address their language and literacy needs.

Additionally, this project involves working with faculty who specialize in best-practices for English learners and students who need extra support with reading instruction. An additional component of the program is aimed at supporting the entire care network of the child, including parents, teachers and service providers. Students will help these stakeholders by providing them tools, resources, and strategies that enable them to provide the best care for the child.

“There is a great need for special education teachers and speech-language pathologists to collaborate to serve children holistically. Our program is unique, as we will prepare our graduate students to work collaboratively before they begin working in schools together. Through a cohort model and coursework, they will benefit from gaining knowledge across professions focused in language and literacy,” said Dena Slanda, co-principal investigator and project coordinator of Project SPEECH.

Throughout the course of the project, the co-principal investigators will evaluate the impact of the program on enhancing the skills and competencies of graduate students to meet the needs of this special population within a school setting. Through application-based coursework, scholars will implement evidence-based instruction and intervention and evaluate the outcomes of school aged children and adolescents.

“Students with this certificate will be uniquely qualified to support children and adolescents with high-intensity needs in our local schools,” said Mary Little, co-principal and director of Project SPEECH. “It gives scholars an advantage to serve as intervention specialists and adept collaborators. The additional graduate credential as interdisciplinary language and literacy intervention specialists places scholars at an advantage when seeking employment.”