Each year, Baylor School of Education graduates about 12 students in Special Education (SPED), which is classified as a “high need” area in education by the U.S. Department of Education.
The nationwide shortage is understandable, said Pat Arredondo, lecturer in Educational Psychology and director of the special education program. “Not everyone is able to get joy from the challenges these children bring,” she said.
Ben Rabideau, BSEd ’14, said he had half a dozen job offers before graduation. “School districts really think highly of the Baylor education program,” he said. Rabideau now teaches at Clements High School in Fort Bend ISD in Sugar Land, where he started a new program to teach living skills to special-needs students ages 18-22.
Rabideau said Baylor’s program put him into the classroom early and often and that the variety of experiences allowed him to get a good overview. “I gravitated more toward the older students, and during my senior year I was able to intern at Robinson High School in the Life Skills classroom,” he said. That experience confirmed his decision and set his path.
Arredondo said Baylor students in SPED begin working in schools during their first semester of the program, and they find out quickly if SPED is for them. But many have already felt a calling to the field.
A family member inspired Rabideau. “I have a cousin who was born with Down Syndrome, and just being able to interact with him and see what a special guy he is, I knew that I wanted to work with students like my cousin.”
Senior Sasha Wells (pictured, top) decided while in high school to study Special Education. A member of Baylor’s equestrian team, Wells had worked as a counselor at a riding camp and found that she especially enjoyed the campers with special needs.
Wells is teaching in a self-contained classroom helping young children learn basic skills like following directions and social interaction. “Age doesn’t matter to me,” Wells said, but she enjoys working with children who have severe disabilities.
Baylor SPED majors also teach students with mild disabilities and work within regular classrooms, Arredondo said.
“A major misconception about special education is that all students have severe disabilities,” she said. “Most students with disabilities have mild differences that are invisible to the eye but still require specialized instructional and assessment skills.”
Baylor offers both an all-level degree in special education and a supplemental certification for elementary education majors. Those in the supplemental program focus on milder disabilities, but the course work in SPED classes for both tracks is substantial, Arredondo said. “Students must master not only instructional techniques but also governmental regulations and laws,” she said.
With classes including Child Development, Exceptionalities, Collaborative Consultation, and Applied Behavior Analysis, Baylor graduates enter the field well prepared. —Meg Cullar