Thursday, October 5, 2023

In Iowa and across the country, there is a dire need for more special educators—teachers, researchers, and administrators who are properly trained to support K-12 students with disabilities, including mental health. Compounding the situation is a severe lack of training for future special educators, particularly in the areas off mental health and diversity.

Faculty at the University of Iowa College of Education intend to change that.

A team comprised of Special Education Professor Allison Bruhn, Seth King, associate professor of special education, Lia Plakans, professor of multilingual education, and Derek Rodgers, clinical assistant professor of special education, was recently awarded a $1.2 million grant from the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs. 

The grant will fund Project THRIVE: Training Special Education Leaders in Mental Health and Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Practices. Bruhn will serve as project director, while King, Plakans, and Rodgers are co-directors on the five-year grant.

According to the team’s grant proposal, “Project THRIVE expects to address shortages of special education leaders by providing a cohort of five doctoral scholars with a comprehensive training curriculum encompassing: culturally and linguistically responsive instruction; and intensive preparation in evidence-based school mental health services (i.e., social, emotional, behavioral support) for students with disabilities, including those with mental health needs.”

The project also intends to increase the number of leaders in special education who are qualified to advance research in school mental health.

“Our goal is to train future leaders in special education who will have additional expertise in mental health and cultural/linguistic diversity,” says Bruhn. “These leaders may go on to teach and/or conduct research in these areas, or they may go on to administrative-type leadership roles at the district, state, or even national level. With the world-class experience they will get in this program, I know our scholars will have an impact on the next generation of special educators.”

All elements of THRIVE, including fieldwork in high-need local educational agencies, individualized mentoring and well-being supports, collaborative research experiences, and coursework will draw on the expertise of faculty leaders in UI’s multilingual education, special education, and school mental health programs.