Through her research and contracts with the Florida Department of Health, Division of Children’s Medical Services, Jacqueline Towson is informing best practices around training teachers, speech-language pathologists, and other clinical service providers to best meet the language and literacy needs of young children with special needs. She is uniquely qualified to do this work thanks to her background in special education and her experience and training as a speech-language pathologist.
Towson’s focus on training tools and assessment of the efficacy of these tools, allows her to extend her impact exponentially through other educators and clinicians.
For nearly 15 years before coming to UCF, Towson served in the Georgia and Texas public school systems as a speech-language pathologist and an early childhood special education teacher; and later, as an administrator of those programs. As rewarding as that work was to her, she wanted to extend her impact to more children, beyond her school district.
Her passion has always been to improve access and equality to early language and literacy skills for young children through speech-language pathology and early intervention services, Towson says. She believes in implementing evidence-based practices within the systems that already exist.
“Early language and literacy are the gateways to everything for children,” Towson says.
She was recently appointed the principal investigator on the statewide, Technical Assistance and Training Support (TATS) program. It supports programs serving prekindergarten children with disabilities by providing technical assistance and training.
Towson helps lead a team of professionals committed to providing resources on best practices for teachers and the therapists who work with children ages 3-5 receiving services in exceptional education. TATS is based at UCF, with staff providing technical assistance and training in six regions throughout the state.
Utilizing her strength and prior experiences with assessment, Towson was recently awarded a contract with the Early Steps program, building a professional learning system to support statewide implementation of the Child Outcomes Survey (COS). This system will help early intervention service providers to use the tool with fidelity to better assess program outcomes. The COS is an established tool that looks at things like cognition, adaptive skills, social skills and more upon entry and exit from early childhood special education programs. Towson hopes to establish continuity from the Early Steps program into pre-school age programs for kids with special needs. She is enlisting the help of students on this contract, including doctoral students, master’s students and undergraduates.
Towson says the most efficient systems are built when working alongside stakeholders in real-time, rather than the traditional launch, assess, and regroup way of working. She says taking stakeholder input as they are building the professional learning system allows everyone to more quickly see if it is working as intended.
Through her research, Towson has shared best practices for early learning acquisition through more than 55 national and international refereed conference presentations since 2013, and more than 20 publications during her time at UCF.
One of Towson’s biggest professional motivators is knowing there are children and families out there who are going without services due to a shortage of personnel available to help them.
Toward that end, she recently was the co-PI on a $1.25 million personnel preparation grant from the United States Department of Education that allows graduate students to earn a certificate that prepares them to work with children with high-intensity needs who require specialized intervention in language and literacy.
“I want to teach other people how to teach, and that’s exactly what I’m doing through all my roles- whether that’s teaching in a classroom, working with TATS or helping to develop and improve the tools that we use to assess outcomes,” says Towson.