UWP offers new DPI certification for special ed teachers

October 9, 2002

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PLATTEVILLE-Special education teachers can now enroll at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville for certification in cross-cultural special education.

About 50 teachers are enrolled this semester, according to Rea Kirk, UWP associate professor of education.

The new program meets a critical need in southwest Wisconsin, said Kirk.

"It means teachers who qualify for the cross-cultural certification can now teach all areas of disability, not just one."

The program also saves hundreds of hours and miles for teachers who formerly had to drive to UW-La Crosse or UW-Whitewater to get the necessary training and education, she added.

Kirk and adjunct faculty member Julie Phillips spearheaded the effort, getting Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction approval this year.

"It's very important for us to have this in southwest Wisconsin," said Phillips. "We have small rural school districts which may have a limited number of students in areas of disabilities."

UWP's program adapts to the national trend to mix the three categories of special needs - specific learning disabililties such as dyslexia, emotional/behavior disorders and cognitive disabilities.

At the federal level, the trend is to combine children with different disabilities instead of isolating them, Kirk said.

Kirk's philosophy is to look at the whole person, not just the disability and to meet that individual's need.

For example, a student who acts up in class may be learning disabled, said Kirk. "Sometimes one is disguised as the other. Students may not want to have their peers know they can't learn or do the work," said Kirk. "Then they act up to camouflage their inabilities," she added.

Two area teachers who are grateful for UWP's certification initiative are Russ Atkinson and Debbie Martin.

Martin teaches between 20 and 25 middle school level students with learning disabilities at River Ridge. "UWP's program is innovative and very wonderful," said Martin. "Now we can serve all special needs children without labels."

Atkinson, who teaches emotional behavior disabilities at Boscobel schools, said the certification gives school districts more flexibility to mainstream children with special needs in the regular classroom.

Before UWP started its program, Atkinson said he "would have had to take an entire master's program at UW-La Crosse while working full-time. The program at UWP is a tremendous advantage," Atkinson added. "There is such a need for this. It allows better teachers credit for their experiences."

UWP's graduate level program," Cross-Categorical Special Education Certification," is for those who currently hold a teaching license.

The baseline for the program is "Teaching 7610: Competency Review Cross-Categorical Guidelines: Integrating Standards and Portfolio Development."

Students will develop a portfolio that demonstrates competencies in skills and knowledge related to state guidelines, said Kirk. Further coursework will be determined based on the portfolio.

Nine additional courses of varying credits will be offered on a regular basis. "Because the program is competency-based, the number of courses required for certification will vary," said Kirk. Students may also earn a master of science degree in education by completing specified credits, either before or after earning the certification.

"What appeals to our students enrolled in this program is that they can use what they already know," said Kirk.

In an introductory comment to UWP's program, Kirk wrote: "I hope this class informs your heart as well as your mind as we learn together to see the whole person and not just the disability."

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