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$2 Million Grant Awarded to ODU’s Special Education Program

By Noell Saunders

Old Dominion University was recently selected as the sixth institution in the country, out of 400 applicants, to receive a $2 million grant from the U.S Department of Education to prepare teams of educators to assess and instruct English learners with and without disabilities.

Silvana Watson, associate professor in the Department of Communication Disorders & Special Education, said the goal is to bridge the gap of language barriers and to be able to recognize and assist students with disabilities more effectively.

"We have a very large number of ESL (English as a second language) students and teachers are not prepared to work with them," Watson said. "We are hoping that by training the teachers, the students will be better prepared and more successful by learning how to read, write and speak in English."

The grant will provide professional development to in-service teams of educators, and allow for the ODU undergraduate pre-service education program to be redesigned.

One hundred in-service educators from Fairfax and Newport News school districts, where there are a high volume of students with English as a second language, will take courses and be taught by ODU instructors. Each educator will receive a certificate at the end of training.

"This grant will merge the fields of special education and children who are English language learners," said Dean Jane Bray of the Darden College of Education. "Dr. Watson has expertly defined the need to have a deeper understanding of the needs for ELL students."

Watson, who led the grant proposal, said she is confident the new initiative will benefit the region as a whole.

"Newport News is one of the refugee centers in Virginia. They have more than 55 languages in the schools," she said. "This program is designed to address this type of need and will promote a collaborative approach among parents, teachers and administrators."

Participants in the program will start classes in the fall.

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