|Image courtesy Kkmd/Wikimedia Commons|
Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Question: Let's start with the basics. Will you please tell us about the grant you recently won from the U.S. Department of Education?
Julie Esparza Brown Answer: Sure. Okay, the grant that we got is a five-year 1.25 million dollar grant from the Office of Special Education in Washington DC. And it is to train students who are from underrepresented groups to be special educators, to work with children with significant disabilities such as on the autism spectrum, or children with intellectual disabilities or severe behavior disorders. So we will train seven students a year for a total of 35 by the end of the grant.
Q: What led you to pursue this grant?
A: So this is, gosh, I've written several grants that we've received over the time I've been here, about 17 years. Probably 5 federal grants. So we know that to train diverse teachers…generally they need financial assistance. So in order to diversify our special education field, I'm always looking for funding opportunities to be able to help with their tuition expenses. So this was another great opportunity. We had a grant through a different federal office that ended two years ago, it was also a five-year grant to train bilingual special educators, so this is another similar one so that we can get people in the field that we really need to be able to meet the needs of our ever-changing population.
Q: Why should a student consider enrolling in the program at PSU?
A: Well, because first of all it pays almost their entire tuition for getting a special ed licensure. And again if they are interested in becoming a teacher, a certificated teacher, and their passion is working with children with disabilities, this is a great opportunity. So we just admitted our first cohort and have a great cadre of seven students who are very passionate about the work. Six of them are bilingual Spanish-speakers, so it's a great opportunity for them. And they're really needed in our schools.
Q: Will a person need to already be bilingual in order to enroll in the program?
A: You do not! But we are looking for people that have experiences across different cultural groups. So for example, one of our new students is not bilingual, but she's had a lot of experience working in Alaska with Alaskan Native children, so for example she brings a really deep understanding of cultural differences. So not necessarily bilingual-bicultural, but certainly experience in working across cultures and a passion for that.
Q: How do you think this grant will affect PSU and our role in nationwide special education?
A: Well, there was a article written about us, oh, maybe five years ago or so, that identified us as one of twelve programs in the nation that trained bilingual special-educators. So, you know, there just aren't very many programs able to do the work that we're doing here, so we're just in a unique situation. Prior to being at PSU, I was a public school educator, and I was a special ed teacher. And then I changed school districts and was a bilingual kindergarten teacher for many years, and then went back into special ed and created a bilingual special ed classroom, so was actually able to do special ed and serve children in their native language. And then I went back to school and added a school psychology credential, so worked as a school psychologist. So I am firmly grounded in three fields, so it's a pretty unusual background, that I'm able to really understand how we combine the knowledge base from all the fields, to train people here or to create programs that will really help address the needs of the kids that struggle the most in our schools. So, we're in a unique situation nationally.
Q: What do you envision PSU's role in special education will be like ten years from now?
A: Well, I'm hoping that we will be known for this kind of work, and that our programs will grow, will continue to find outside sources of funding to support diverse learners that otherwise probably wouldn't be able to afford to come back to school. And that we'll make an impact on doing research on how we best work across language groups, so I'm just hoping that this grows and expands.
Q: Finally, is there anything else you'd like us to know about this grant or Portland State's special education program?
A: I guess that just, it's another exciting opportunity because the students that I've worked with in the last grant and all the grants that I've worked with are so passionate. The exciting thing with the grants that I have been involved with in the last 17 years…we've seen students that have begun as teachers, that are now rising to be top-level administrators. So it's really neat to see kind of our family of alumni that are making a huge difference state-wide and taking those diverse experience and helping everybody to understand more about unique needs of kids across culture and language groups. So it's very exciting work.
Our sincerest thanks to Professor Julie Esparza Brown. We hope that some of you are interested in taking advantage of this program, and that all of you found this interview helpful. If you apply, let us know how it goes!