A Growing Number of Students with Disabilities Drives the Push for More Master’s-Prepared Special Education Teachers in West Virginia
As of the 2012-13 school year a total of 282,281 students were enrolled in West Virginia’s public schools. Among them, 44,487 students were identified as students with disabilities. While the national average remains around 12 percent, nearly 16 percent of West Virginia’s public school students qualified for special accommodations during this time.
During the same period, the largest portion of these students were identified as having:
- Speech/language impairments: 13,293 students
- Specific learning disabilities: 11,925
- Intellectual disability: 6,934
- Other health impairments: 5,585
- Autism: 1,619
- Behavior disorders: 1,491
Special education teachers were able to accommodate 93% of these students in the general education classroom, either full- or part-time, while the other 6 percent were taught in separate classes. A small portion (less than one percent) was taught in special schools, private schools, or residential facilities.
One of the major hurdles that continue to plague the Mountain State is the lack of qualified teachers. As of 2016, recruiting and retaining outstanding educators was a key focus in West Virginia. The state experienced a shortfall of more than 500 educators during this time with more than half of the open positions in special education.
According to Michael Martirano, West Virginia’s superintendent of schools, the state needs to do what is necessary to nurture and support teachers and provide them with the necessary compensation. “I firmly believe the most important people in the world of education are teachers,” said Martirano.
Martirano also said that quality teachers and a strong educational system can carry the state through challenging economic times.
A Unique Program is Making a Difference in Special Education in West Virginia
The Arrowsmith Program, a unique method of helping kids with learning disabilities, has finally made its way to West Virginia’s Charleston Montessori School, much to the delight of parents and special needs students. Before its move to West Virginia in 2015, the closest Arrowsmith Program was in Virginia.
The Arrowsmith Program uses an approach that’s much different than traditional special education. Instead of teaching children despite their struggles, it tackles the weaknesses head on through a series of exercises based on neuroscience.
Through these exercises, special education teachers target and strengthen the weak areas of the brain so learning can be more efficient for students struggling with learning disabilities or difficulties.
Arrowsmith’s managing director, Jessica Poulin, says that the program has transformed the trajectory of the lives of its special education students. According to Poulin, students go from being unable to function and learn efficiently to being able to learn new material and succeed.