M.Ed. in Special Education
"I have been plugging the special education master's degree with other teachers. Many special educators with bachelor's degrees want to go on. Doing the master's program was a way to meet other educators, to get more ideas, more ways to do things that make more sense."
Five years ago, a team of U of A faculty members received a $1 million federal grant for a proposal with the end goal of improving transition services for high school students with disabilities. In August, the U of A Razorbug Diploma Tour visited the Trumann home of Tina Foster, one of numerous special education teachers in Arkansas who received the tuition assistance provided by the grant.
Foster is using what she has learned from the online degree program in her classroom at Valley View High School on the west side of Jonesboro.
"I have been plugging the special education master's degree with other teachers," Foster said. "Many special educators with bachelor's degrees want to go on. Doing the master's program was a way to meet other educators, to get more ideas, more ways to do things that make more sense."
A magnetic Razorback sticker could be seen on Foster's front door as Renee Speight, teaching assistant professor of special education, presented a framed diploma Aug. 2 to Foster for her master's degree in special education. It was the second day of the weeklong tour through eastern Arkansas. U of A faculty and staff also traveled with the Razorbug through south Arkansas and the River Valley in June and July to present framed diplomas to graduates of online degree programs. More than 440 students graduated from online programs in May.
The Razorbug is a converted red Volkswagen Beetle that sports a Razorback snout, tail and razor-edged spine. It has been used for recruitment and special events since 2005.
Foster said she felt a calling to teach special education.
"I got into special education because I believe God led me there," she said. "My husband, Robin, had just finished seminary and had moved on to his first pastorate in east Texas. I spent the summer applying for jobs in the area with no luck. Since Robin was bi-vocational, he also had gotten a job driving a school bus, and as he was talking to his boss, he mentioned that I was looking for a job teaching."
Through this conversation, Foster learned about a local school that needed to hire a special education teacher at the elementary level.
"So, I called the school that day and talked to the principal, took him my resume and licensing information, and he said, 'I will hire you if you will teach special education,'" Foster recalled. "I got an emergency certification since I was not SPED qualified and fell in love with working with special education students and have been teaching in special education since that time. I have literally taught all grades K-12, but my favorite is high school."
Foster received an email in 2017 from the curriculum coordinator at Valley View about the initial Teaming for Transitions grant from the U of A. The grant was renewed this year and applications for the next cohort will be accepted this fall.
The grant's goal is to prepare graduate students in special education, vocational rehabilitation and social work to improve services for high school students with disabilities as they transition to adult life. An interdisciplinary team of faculty members from the College of Education and Health Professions and the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences collaborated with school districts and communities, in part to increase awareness that an interdisciplinary team is also needed at the school and community level to ensure the success of students with disabilities.
"The grant made it possible for me to get this degree," Foster said. "Focusing on transition is important because it allows me to help my students and their families plan for their future. I can help them narrow down what they want to do and what they are good at doing. I can help them and their parents with resources so that they can achieve their dreams and be productive members of society. All students have some need for this, but our special education students especially need this planning to help them achieve their goals in life."
Foster walked at the May graduation ceremony in Fayetteville, and she said it was nice getting to meet classmates in person for the first time. Her husband, son and daughter, two grandchildren and her parents also attended the ceremony.
Her advice for being successful in an online degree program is to reach out.
"Get to know your cohort," Foster said. "You can use group chats, and don't be afraid to ask questions. Being over 50 and going back to school, it was nice being with younger people, and there were older people, too."