For 10 years, Terri Melton has worked with the TRACS program — Training in Responsibility, Accountability and Coping Skills — and she’s seen firsthand the state’s growing need for qualified special education teachers. Thanks to a new state grant program she learned about through Tennessee Tech University, she’ll take a spot as a teacher after she earns her bachelor’s degree in about a year.
“I have an associate’s degree and was paying for my education to earn a bachelor’s degree when I learned about this program,” said Melton. “The grant is covering 13 hours this semester and is helping me reach my goal.”
Sponsored by the Tennessee Department of Education, the program — “Become a Special Educator in Tennessee” or BASE-TN — has awarded $75,000 in grants to eight colleges and universities, including Tennessee Tech, to provide tuition and books for students who want to earn a special education teaching license.
The BASE-TN program is designed to attract two categories of potential students: those who hold bachelor’s degrees in areas other than special education and educational assistants, like Melton, who have at least two years of college and currently serve children with disabilities.
The shortage of special education teachers remains a serious issue in Tennessee. According to the state, in the next three years systems will hire more than 1,500 new special education personnel. Melton says one-on-one attention in reading, math, and written expression is especially crucial to children with challenges such as ADHD or autism.
Grant recipients must agree to work two years in Tennessee schools for each year of support received. Melton, who began working as a teaching assistant so she could spend summers home with her son who has cerebral palsy, said she intends to stay in Putnam County and work with the students who have become so dear to her.
“I like to see kids improve,” said Melton. “If I can help just one each day read or organize his or her things, it’s rewarding.”
Melton was the first to take advantage of the grant this fall through TTU, and the application deadline is approaching for anyone interested in applying for the grant for Spring Semester. The application deadline for Spring 2005 is Dec. 6; the deadline for Summer 2005 is April 26.