Student and Academic Life

December Grads Include 3 Uniquely Trained to Help Special Education Students With Communication Needs 

SPEAC-IT grant students pre-COVID-19
SPEAC-IT grant students pre-COVID-19.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 17, 2020) — Among December’s University of Kentucky College of Education graduates are three students who completed a program uniquely preparing school personnel who work with students with moderate and severe disabilities.  

Though not typically trained together, a grant UK received from the U.S. Department of Education allows teachers in the special education field to study in a combined master’s level program with speech-language pathology students. This month’s graduates were in the first cohort of special education students accepted into the master’s program, known as the Special Education and Communication-Interdisciplinary Training (SPEAC-IT) grant.  

Teachers and speech therapists in the program learn to develop skills for collaboratively solving communication challenges for students in special education classrooms.  

Molly Baldridge, a special education teacher at Harrison Elementary in Fayette County, credited the collaborative nature of the program with helping her gain a better understanding of how to reach students with complex communication needs.   

“It was eye opening to see that often we all have the same goals for students, we are just trained to get there in different ways,” Baldridge said. “This grant provided an opportunity to have those open conversations about what we do and why we do it and how much more meaningful student outcomes can be when we do it together. It’s always good to get to know points of view other than your own, and I think that is a great benefit of how this program is designed.”  

Faculty collaborating on the grant include two from the UK College of Education Department of Early Childhood, Special Education and Counselor Education — Margaret Bausch, a professor and associate dean for research and graduate student success, and Melinda Ault, associate professor. They work with Judith Page, associate professor in the College of Health Sciences Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. Speech-language pathology master’s students from the first cohort of the grant program have coursework remaining and will graduate upon its completion.  

The students attended shared classes and had shadowing opportunities. They also gained hands-on experience using assistive technologies found in school settings.  

Brandy Denton, a special education teacher at Hawthorne Elementary in Jefferson County, works with individuals with the most significant disabilities to advocate for them and be their voice.   

“Most of them need that advocate to be understood and heard,” Denton said. “The SPEAC-IT program provided me with skills to teach my students how to communicate and use their own voice so that I can teach them to be their own advocates throughout their lives.”    

Denton said she picked up skills in the program that help her understand current research and best practices to teach a unique population of students.   

“My students teach me to see life through a different lens,” she said. “All the small achievements lead to huge achievements. I truly believe there is no other career that truly allows a professional to slow down in the moment and see life through this lens.”  

For information on degrees in special education, visit https://education.uky.edu/edsrc/.  

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.