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UMPI offers new Associate’s degree program in Special Education

This fall, the University of Maine at Presque Isle will begin offering a new Associate’s degree especially designed to prepare, and provide quality training opportunities for, individuals who want to work in the Special Education field as teacher aides in the State of Maine.

The University is offering the state’s first ever Special Education Paraprofessional Associate of Arts Degree. The new degree will prepare students to work as teacher aides/educational technicians – also known as special education paraprofessionals – in K-12 classrooms throughout the state. The degree is aimed at satisfying federal mandates for ‘highly qualified personnel’ in the field of Special Education, both under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004.

“What we have heard from Special Education teacher aides throughout Maine is that there is a very real need for more focused education and training opportunities before they get into public school classrooms so that they are prepared and have the skills they need to work with students with special needs,” UMPI President Don Zillman said. “We’ve created this new Associate’s degree to meet that need and we are very much looking forward to graduating students who will be able to serve as highly qualified Special Education personnel at schools both here in Aroostook County and throughout the state.”

Dr. William Breton, UMPI Assistant Professor of Special Education and Special Education Program Coordinator, helped to establish the Special Education Paraprofessionals degree at UMPI. Dr. Breton conducted a research project in early 2009, surveying a sample of the more than 5,000 educational technicians in Maine. One of the goals of the study was to discover these paraprofessionals’ perceptions regarding the preparation opportunities available for their specific job field as well as their perceptions about the training development needed to work with students with special needs. Breton found that nearly half of these paraprofessionals felt that their initial training to instruct students with disabilities was only “very poor to fair.”

The new UMPI Associate’s Degree in Special Education will focus on how to instruct students with disabilities and other special needs, how to integrate technology in the classroom for these students, and how to apply the principles of effective classroom management and individualized behavior interventions with these students.

“Many studies have indicated that it is the least qualified individuals – the paraprofessionals – who often have primary teaching responsibilities for the most challenging students; and the most complex teaching strategies often need to be implemented by these paraprofessionals,” Dr. Breton said. “At UMPI, we want to offer a systematic professional training program specifically designed for special education paraprofessionals so they are highly prepared for the work they will do in the classroom and are best able to support the Special Education teachers they work with.”

Students who enter the new degree program will be able to take part in supervised field experiences so they better understand the duties of educational technicians. They also will meet the requirements for certification as an Educational Technician II from the Maine Department of Education. Students who complete the degree will be able to transfer, if they choose, into UMPI’s Bachelor’s degree programs in Education or Special Education.

The University of Maine System Board of Trustees approved UMPI’s Associate’s degree program for Special Education Paraprofessionals this spring.

For more information about this new Associate’s degree program, contact Dr. Breton at 768-9413.