College of Education and Human Development
Mason partnership seeks to enhance community college early childhood special education programs
August 15, 2023
Pictured above is Dr. Christan Coogle (left) and Dr. Heather Walter (right), faculty at Mason's School of Education.
In partnership with faculty from the Virginia Commonwealth University and Old Dominion University, Dr. Heather L. Walter and Dr. Christan G. Coogle, faculty at George Mason University’s School of Education, are collaborating with the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) to improve the quality of existing Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Development (AAS-ECD) degree programs at four Virginia community colleges. This initiative is supported by a grant recently awarded by the United States Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).
The four community college partners serve rural, low-resourced areas of Virginia. Scholars from the AAS-ECD program will be prepared to work with young children with developmental delays and disabilities and their families in a variety of early childhood settings, including young children who are multilingual and from racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse populations. By collaborating with community colleges to enhance coursework, curriculum, and syllabi, field placement experiences, and professional development opportunities in early childhood environments serving young children with delays and disabilities, this grant will result in an increase in the number of highly qualified educators graduating with an associate degree.
Dr. Walter, Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Special Education and Special Education, and Dr. Coogle, Associate Professor of Special Education and Early Childhood Special Education and Board-Certified Behavior Analyst, are Co-Principal Investigators in this initiative. Dr. Walter will conduct an ongoing evaluation of specific project activities and an annual evaluation of all grant activities, including outcomes and processes. Dr. Coogle will support the project through curriculum development.
Mason is partnering with other Virginia colleges and universities to enhance community college preparation programs in early childhood special education.
Upon hearing the news of the OSEP grant award, Dr. Walter stated, “Christan and I are both excited to represent the College of Education and Human Development and George Mason University as we partner with other universities and colleges in the area to support equitable educational experiences for all young children. We hope that this grant will propel further conversations on how to decrease teacher shortages that affect the quality of outcomes for families and our youngest children who experience delays or disabilities.”
“We know that there are persistent national and statewide critical shortages in programs serving children birth to five years of age who are experiencing delays and disabilities,” Dr. Walter continued, “This affects not only the quantity of qualified personnel in the early childhood special education field, but also affects family and child outcomes. Many rural areas in the U.S are considered childcare deserts, meaning that community-based programs are unable to meet the needs of families due to various factors. For families who have children who experience delays or disabilities, inclusive and high-quality settings are often limited. One way to address these needs is to increase the number of highly qualified personnel in early childhood special education who graduate with the competencies to serve all children by working together as a community to enhance competencies in coursework, professional development opportunities, and field experiences.”
Dr. Coogle expressed her excitement about the grant award, “This award is an outcome of the unification and collaboration of early childhood special education leaders across universities within the Commonwealth of Virginia. We are so excited to have the opportunity to represent George Mason University and engage in this collaborative, cross-institution work as it aligns with our passion to ensure young children with developmental delays and disabilities and their families including young children who are multilingual and from racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse populations receive services that are aligned with the best available evidence through a focused effort on enhancing the preparation of those who will be providing services including teachers, child care workers, early intervention providers, instructional assistants, and more.”
Please join us in congratulating Dr. Walter and Dr. Coogle for their outstanding work and contributions in the area of early childhood special education which led to the award of this grant.