Grant Will Prepare Students to Work With Special-Needs Children in Rural Areas

Two academic programs at Eastern Kentucky University are participating in a federally funded project designed to enhance a variety of services for special-needs children in early intervention and school programs in rural areas.

A five-year, $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education has enabled EKU and the University of Kentucky to jointly deliver PREPaRE (Preparing Related Services Personnel for Rural Employment). The program prepares graduate students in Eastern’s Occupational Therapy Program, UK’s Physical Therapy Program and Communication Disorders programs in both institutions.

Dr. Colleen Schneck, chair of EKU’s Department of Occupational Therapy, serves as project director and Dr. Christine Myers, an associate professor in the department and coordinator of EKU’s new doctoral program in occupational therapy, is a co-director of the project, which was one of only nine selected for funding out of 53 applications.

Graduate students accepted into the PREPaRE program receive an annual stipend of $12,500 and benefit from an enhanced program of study, additional mentoring services (while enrolled and after graduation), opportunities for collaboration through case studies with early childhood personnel and teachers, and attendance at a state conference. In return, the students commit to work two years in an early intervention or school-based program with special needs children and are strongly encouraged to provide those services in a rural setting.

Throughout the five-year grant period, 70 students will participate – 35 each from EKU and UK. At Eastern, four Occupational Therapy students and three Communication Disorders students will join the program each year.

It is expected that the project will help alleviate a regional shortage of qualified professionals in the fields of occupational therapy, physical therapy and communication disorders, a need compounded by a high poverty rate in many parts of the region.

The special coursework “will open the students’ eyes to issues we just can’t get into in the regular curriculum,” Myers said.

The mentoring, from other professionals in their respective fields, is also critical, Schneck said, because “when students go back to rural areas, they are often on their own.”

Schneck said the project will ultimately “increase the workforce in the area, which is desperately needed. The more we can prepare to work in rural areas, the better we can provide needed services.”

This is the second round of funding for the project, which had previously been funded for four years. The majority of participants, Schneck noted, have gone on to work in rural areas.

Published on September 16, 2013