Having presented at national and international autism conferences since 2003, Widman’s design approach for the program’s curriculum is grounded in research. She emphasizes, “Every course in this program is evidence-based.” Through their classes, North Central students will become familiar with the foundations of teaching & learning—and even learn about assistive and augmentative technologies in order to support a range of diverse needs in the classroom.
Integral to students’ success are the unique fieldwork experiences built into the program. “We’ve created a program that truly prepares students to work with children from kindergarten through age 22,” says Spitzer. Teacher candidates will have opportunities for three different kinds of field experiences: at the elementary school, middle/high school, and transition program levels. These varied field opportunities will allow teacher candidates to self-determine where they can best use their skills in their student teaching residencies—and, eventually, at which level they want to teach after graduating. By giving them the chance to shape their own academic experiences at North Central, the special education program plays to students’ strengths so they can “hit the ground running” in their careers, asserts Widman.
As the mother of an autistic adult, Widman has witnessed first-hand the impact special education teachers have on their students’ success. Speaking about her son Nicolas Widman, who is now an instructor at Clemson University, she said: “I felt the need to go on and help him." This personal motivation has driven her dedication to instruct and encourage aspiring special educators. Now teaching at the collegiate level, Widman hopes that the new program helps to inspire future educators to open up educational opportunities for others. For a child in any level of special education, “it’s not just about acquiring skills, it’s about being included,” she defends.
Widman knows that her family’s story is not the only one that has been influenced through special education—or, for that matter, through the encouragement of teachers. Because teachers work to support the diverse needs of all their students, Widman says, “Every educator is a special educator.” North Central’s new special education program provides students with the knowledge and real-world skills they’ll need to be prepared for their future classrooms, no matter who fills them. That’s why this specially designed program will help to propel students to excel in their educational careers—and ultimately, to make a difference in the lives of so many others.