Kathleen ClementsSaint Joseph's has approved a new special education major beginning next fall, meeting a critical and widespread need for more teachers of children with disabilities.

"This new major is a perfect blending of both the programs currently offered in the education department and the mission of the college to serve," says Dr. Kathleen Clements, assistant professor of education. Graduates of the B.S. in Special Education will be eligible to teach mildly disabled children in Grades K-8, and consult with teachers, children and parents.

Students will also be able to become certified in both elementary education and special education by the addition of one semester of schooling to complete student teaching in each area. New regulations require special educators to not only collaborate with general education teachers but to provide content instruction that is academically rigorous and pedagogically sound. Therefore, the dual training provides greater accountability for the special educator. Since special education is federally mandated through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004, education for children with disabilities is individualized.

Students in elementary education choose from four concentrations in English, history, math, or science (life or physical). However, students electing the special education major will essentially fulfill a 24-credit concentration in special education and will not choose from the other offerings. This sequence of courses will lead to the "highly qualified status" required of the No Child Left Behind legislation for special educators. The major will involve developing eight new courses and hiring at least one full-time faculty member and one adjunct faculty member.

The need for certified special education teachers is considered critical in all 50 states of the country. In Maine, teachers involved with critical teacher shortage areas, such as special education, can defer or cancel their student loans (depending on the type of loan), and many school districts also offer incentive programs ranging from stipends to housing.

"Elementary education was the first and is the oldest major offered by the college. The Sisters of Mercy, who founded our college in 1912, would be proud that the education major is growing to reflect the times," says Dr. Clements. "It will integrate seamlessly with our other education programs."