Nancy Templeton believes there is a huge need for more highly qualified teachers that can instruct students with special needs.

Templeton, a single mom who raised three children with disabilities, including one with cerebral palsy, has seen firsthand the need for teachers who can create a positive, rigorous learning atmosphere for students with exceptionalities.

“A lot of teachers aren’t prepared to deal with special needs children, so having more specialized teachers in the field is invaluable for these kids.” Templeton said.

But she isn’t sitting on the sidelines and complaining about the problem; she’s working to be a part of the solution.

Templeton, who spent most of her life working in sales, was just a few years into her second career as an educator when she discovered the University of Central Florida’s graduate certificate in autism spectrum disorders, a program that is part of the College of Education and Human Performance.

The program, which ranks 16th in the nation in special education graduate programs, recently received a five-year renewal of its $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The grant is used to fund the tuition of students who are seeking to gain special education credentials geared at instructing those with autism.

Professor Eleazer Vasquez, the program’s director, said the grant is highly competitive and helps remove the cost burden for teachers-in-training.

“This is one of a select few programs in the country that has actually been rewarded this particular DoE grant, so we’ve been fortunate to be successful with this particular research program,” Vasquez said. “We fund students throughout their entire certification program, and the grant allows students to get half of their entire graduate degree paid for.”

Many of the program’s courses are available online, allowing students like Templeton, who lives in Cocoa, to earn most of the certificate on her own time and without a commute.

The students also have access to outside-the-classroom learning through field experiences in which they visit local schools to observe and volunteer in special needs classrooms.

Templeton will complete her certificate in May and return to teaching full-time with a better capability of helping students with special needs, and she encourages other teachers to pursue the sort of training and education she’s receiving.

“Unfortunately, there are not enough highly qualified special education teachers,” she said. “That’s what makes this program so important. It encourages teachers to get the special education training that they need to help the students that often fall through the cracks.”

To learn more about UCF’s autism spectrum disorders program, contact Vasquez at