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Released September 15, 2003


HATTIESBURG - The University of Southern Mississippi has received a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to train personnel from across the state to work with deaf-blind students.

The grant, announced recently by U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), will help fund the five-year statewide project, which will prepare up to 60 persons through a master's degree program in severe disabilities with emphasis in dual sensory impairment. The master's will satisfy state agency certification requirements for working directly with or supervising personnel working with individuals with multiple disabilities. These personnel will also be qualified to lead future training of paraeducators at one of the state's 15 community colleges.

"The need is tremendous," said Dr. Linda McDowell, administrative

director of the Mississippi Deaf-Blind Project, which is housed in the Southern Miss Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education. "Students in Mississippi identified as deaf-blind are scattered throughout the state, and often are the only (deaf-blind) child in a particular county. Their teachers need the specialized training and support proposed in this project in order to be able to best serve these children."

The 60 personnel completing the master's degree will work in a variety of capacities, including providing direct and related services for school and transition age students and families, as well as consultation to parents and other professionals associated with state agencies, private providers, and the Choctaw Nation.

"Through further training, we can help deaf-blind learners receive the proper attention and reach their full potential," Taylor said.

Courses will be presented in a variety of formats that meet the needs of rural settings. Courses will be provided in an Internet format using real and asynchronous time, and include CD-ROMs, videotapes, telephone dialogue, and e-mail communication as part of the course design. Online courses will also have one scheduled face-to-face classroom experience between the instructor and students and at least one opportunity for Interactive Video Network (IVN) connection to increase student participation and interaction.

The master's degree program will include six courses (provided online by Texas Tech University) and two practica (one in-state and one out-of-state) specific to teaching and serving students with deaf-blindness. The practica will be supervised by the Mississippi Deaf-Blind Project, which is already conducting in-service training and providing on-site technical assistance. Three other courses included in the proposed degree are selected from the existing Southern Miss master's programs in severe/multiple disabilities, including a course in administration and the law, a course on transitioning to adult services and an applied research/independent study course (all three to be provided online). One additional course will be provided online through contract with an individual provided by the statewide assistive technology center at Mississippi State University.

Specific emphasis will be placed on recruitment strategies that meet statewide needs for personnel. The Deaf-Blind Census from Mississippi, used to locate students with deaf-blindness who are served by teachers without specialized training, will be used to recruit personnel for training. Collaborative partners currently involved in in-service training efforts by the Mississippi Deaf-Blind Project (Mississippi Departments of Education, Rehabilitation, and Mental Heath: Developmental Disabilities Division) have already identified potential master's students. Other collaborative partners for this project have the capacity to recruit students from populations that are underrepresented in the field of educating students with deaf-blindness (Southern Miss, Jackson State University, Delta State University, MSU and the Choctaw Nation).

Emphasis will be placed on mentoring students and developing and supervising practicum sites with the goal of increasing the field-based learning opportunities for adult students and strengthening the program for children within the most inclusive setting appropriate for each child with deaf-blindness. Modification of existing courses will continue to be implemented based on updated research on deaf-blindness and pedagogy, feedback from former students, and recommendations addressing cultural sensitivity in both recruitment and course content.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM