By Melissa Luby, News Editor
The School of Education at Olivet Nazarene University has received state approval to begin offering a special education major, effective for the spring 2015 semester.
The School of Education submitted their proposal for the special education program to the Illinois State Educator Preparation Licensure Board last May.
The program was unanimously approved at an in-person meeting between the school and the board on June 6.
“It was huge to get it on the first try,” said School of Education professor Ruth Reynolds.
The process of adding a special education major began four years ago under the leadership of the now-retired Dr. Jim Upchurch.
“[Adding a special education major] lined up with the mission of the School of Education, which is training students to live out their vocations and follow God,” Professor Brian Stipp said.
Stipp was hired in July 2013 to continue Upchurch’s work of writing the special education curriculum. “We had been getting requests from students for years,” Stipp said.
The department has been preparing for the launch of this new program by adding new faculty. Stipp and Reynolds were both hired specifically to complete the proposal and to teach the new special education courses. The proposal, which Reynolds described as a “thick document,” was designed to meet national and state standards.
The special education major differs from the standard education degree in that it requires seven courses unique to the special education program and a higher number of field experience hours. Special education courses may also be available to standard education students as electives.
Current education students will have the option to switch their major to special education starting in the spring of 2015. According to Stipp and Reynolds, the program will debut in the spring in order to give upperclassmen the opportunity to take the new courses.
Freshman Hannah Rattin, who hopes to pursue a master’s degree in music therapy, said that her personal experience with children with disabilities sparked her interest in special education.
“In kindergarten, one of my best friends had autism, and he made my school experience so wonderful,” she said.
Rattin realized her calling to work with the disabled when she met the adopted daughter of her missionary cousins, Grace, who has cerebral palsy.
“I once helped her in physical therapy and I realized my passion to see that spark of determination and possible success in those that receive special education,” she said.
The upcoming debut of the special education program was one of the defining factors in Rattin’s choice to attend Olivet.