A central concern in early intervention is the availability of well prepared professionals with the skills and knowledge to facilitate the successful inclusion of young children with disabilities ages birth to five and their families. Given the inclusive nature of early childhood service delivery, there is a critical need to restructure professional development programs to prepare professionals who can function in a collaborative, interdisciplinary manner with parents and other professionals to facilitate the full and successful inclusion of young children with disabilities in their home and community environments. The School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in collaboration with Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute will offer a collaborative, interdisciplinary program for masters’ level students in Early Childhood Intervention and Family Support with a focus on inclusion specialist preparation.
The primary project goal is to prepare working professionals from diverse backgrounds to become interdisciplinary, collaborative leaders in early childhood special education implementing culturally responsive and evidence-based practices for facilitating the successful inclusion of young children with disabilities and their families in high-need schools and community based programs. The project explicitly focuses on: a) recruitment and professional and financial support for early childhood intervention graduate students from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds; b) specialized coursework and internships focused on the developmental and educational needs of young children with disabilities and evidence-based strategies for facilitating their full inclusion in high-need community based programs; and c) preparation of highly qualified early childhood professionals in evidence-based practices for facilitating the successful inclusion of young children with disabilities. A community of practice network will be utilized to support action based research and evidence-based practices for achieving the successful inclusion of young children with disabilities in their natural learning environments.
To that end, a total of 30 students will develop specialized competencies in inclusion specialist facilitation, all receiving a Master's Degree in Education and Birth-Kindergarten licensure. The project reflects four key features of personnel preparation programs: 1) recruitment of underrepresented students, many of whom are currently teaching in high-need schools and community based programs; 2) focus on evidence-based strategies for meeting the needs of young children with disabilities and their families in inclusive settings; 3) preparation of interdisciplinary leaders who are committed to affecting positive change in the developmental and educational outcomes of young children with disabilities; and (4) an emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration and a community of practice for practitioners, family members, community based programs, and University personnel through partnerships with high need community agencies.