A Prince George's County Resident and
Student in the Partnership for
Beginning Special Educators Program
Several years ago when she was working in the communications industry, Charlene Rohlehr friends would constantly tell her she should go into teaching. The 28-year-old was doing volunteer work for the Special Olympics and loved to be around children. In many ways, teaching seemed liked a natural fit, but her reply was always, "Who would want me?"
Then her company announced layoffs and, for the first time in her life, she was out of work. The announcement came about the same time that she heard about a teacher's fair in Prince George's County. Rohlehr decided to go and meet with the human resources representative. When she was asked if she was interested in teaching English, Rohlehr replied, "I want to work in special education."
She was directed to a partnership program between The Johns Hopkins University and the Prince George's County Public Schools. The goal of the partnership is to prepare instructors to address a serious shortage of special educators in the county. Participants pursue a master's degree leading to their certification to teach students with mild to moderate disabilities. Upon completion of the two-year program, teacher candidates are required to teach in Prince George's for four years.
The shortage of special education instructors is a national problem. Ninety-eight percent of the nation's schools report shortages of teachers and one in eight of those who are teaching special needs students is not qualified. Last August, the Maryland Department of Education declared a critical shortage statewide of special educators for the fifth straight year.
Four years ago, Peggy King-Sears of the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education at Johns Hopkins University and Pat Jamison, who was then director of special education for Prince George's County Schools, submitted a proposal to the U.S. Department of Education to address the shortage. Their goal was to produce qualified and certified instructors to serve children with mild to moderate disabilities. The federal funds helped defray tuition costs.
"This has been a wonderful partnership that has helped up produce highly qualified teachers in a critical need area," said Pamela Downing-Hosten, the current director of special education for the county.
"It has been a true partnership and collaboration between the university and the school system," King Sears said. "We have worked well together."
The last class just started its first teaching assignment and will finish the program in August 2006. The program will have produced 33 fully certified teachers.
"I knew the program would be rigorous and require a great deal of work, but I liked that it combined course learning and classroom experience," Rohlehr said of her experience. She was also happy with the support she received from Johns Hopkins and her fellow teachers. "With her years of experience in the classroom, Dr. Sears' mentoring helped me to better understand many of the situations I had to deal with on a day to day basis. Prior to my first experience in the classroom, I was extremely nervous and apprehensive. However, when I got in front of the class, it felt right. I was very comfortable.
"Even though I was told I would have the most difficult kids, I was surprised how good they were. I could tell they like me, and I like them," she added.
Jill Hildenbrand, who is the project liaison for the school system, noted that when the fourth and final class of students finishes the program in August 2006, the vacancy rate of special educators will have been reduced almost in half.
"We are very please with the program," Hildenbrand said.
Anyone interested in learning more about special education opportunities in Prince George's County should contact 1-800- GO-TO-JHU or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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