Western Kentucky University awarded $1.1 million federal grant for special education

Published: Jan. 15, 2020 at 11:06 AM CST
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The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education has awarded Western Kentucky University a $1.1 million grant to address the ongoing national, state, and regional shortage of personnel certified to serve K-12 students with high-intensity needs.

Project “Preparing Rural Educators and Professionals for Students with High-Intensity Needs” (PREP) is an interdisciplinary initiative led by Dr. Christina Noel of WKU’s College of Education and Behavioral Sciences.

"Despite having a long-standing program there continue to be barriers to be able to pursue advanced degrees. So this grant folds perfectly into the existing programs that we have. It is really meant to target professionals in the field," said Dr. Christina Noel, Associate Professor.

The collaboration includes the College of Health and Human Services and will combine graduate coursework and field experiences to prepare special education teachers and speech-language pathologists to serve students with moderate and severe disabilities. Grant funding will support recruitment, tuition scholarships and graduation of 30 students in the Special Education and Speech-Language Pathology programs at WKU. Graduates will be licensed to work with K-12 students with moderate and severe disabilities.

The five-semester program was developed to remove barriers associated with working in rural communities. Benefits include tuition support, supervised field experiences, and connection to professional networks.

"I am really excited that Western got this grant, I think we are the perfect University for it. This is a federal grant really meant to help prepare to remove barriers basically for professionals who are interested in working with kids with high-intensity needs," added Dr. Noel.

Project PREP’s curriculum will provide flexible coursework, seminars, fieldwork, and the opportunity for scholars to attend professional conferences. Once completed, scholars will graduate with a Masters of Education in Moderate Severe Disabilities (MSD) or a Master of Arts in Speech-Language Pathology (SLP).

Project PREP is now accepting students for its first cohort set to begin the fall semester 2020. Those interested in the program can now apply to the WKU Graduate School. Applicants should be prepared to submit a statement describing why they are interested in aiding rural communities.

Special Education teachers are excited about this grant and are hopeful it will help with the need for more teachers in that field.

"With everything going on with not being able to have a masters anymore we have seen kind of a shortage in that position. This grant is kind of helping our students across our region get educators that are trained for that position," said Kristen Hollmeyer, Special Education teacher FSHS

Ms. Hollmeyer has been a special education teacher for 11 years. Her favorite part of the job is the impact she has on her student's future.

"Knowing that I have an impact on them after high school and whether they go to get a job or they work at a vocational center, just knowing that they have some meaningful type of employment after school," added Hollmeyer.

The deadline for entry is March 1, 2020. For more information about Project PREP, you can send an email to the address found at