Grant gives GRACIAS to education students

The UM School of Education graduate program, one of the top 50 in the country according to Newsweek, has recently received funding from the U.S. Department of Education to enact Project GRACIAS [Gaining Readiness and Achieving Competency for Instructing All Students], a program that offers 95 percent tuition support for students who enroll in a masters program.

“This program focuses on preparing children for a lifetime of learning and success,” said Ana Pachon-Reboredo, UM School of Education professor and bilingual program coordinator for Miami-Dade County Public schools. “It ensures that children acquire the fundamental skills they need to enter school ready-to-learn, which is Goal 1 of Florida’s State Education Goals.”

Project GRACIAS allows graduate students to receive certification in varying exceptionalities for grades K-12 and endorsements in TESOL [Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages] and pre-kindergarten disabilities.

In Miami-Dade county 58 percent of pre-schoolers with disabilities are Hispanic and speak primarily Spanish. There are currently 157 classrooms for preschoolers with disabilities throughout Miami-Dade County.

According to those involved with the program, out of 145 schools that applied for funding, only 24 were accepted to receive funding.

“We look for students with diverse backgrounds,” Diana Valle-Riestra, Co-Director of Early Childhood Special Education Graduate Program, said. “We look for individuals with experience in teaching and learning, diverse experiences, an interest in working with young Hispanic children and proficiency in Spanish.”

“Students receive tuition support throughout their education assuming that they follow the course sequence laid out for them,” Valle-Riestra said.

Students also receive a book stipend every semester as well as a travel stipend to attend a conference.

The School of Education is trying to inform prospective students and students currently enrolled at UM of the grant.

“We have sent personalized letters to the principals of all public schools in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties,” Valle-Riestra said.

“For 95 percent of tuition at UM and a guaranteed high-paying professional job when I graduate, I will seriously think of applying for the program,” Lourdes Costanza, an education student at Miami-Dade Community College, said. “I know there is a strong need for specialized educators in this particular field, and I feel as though this tuition incentive will really encourage many people to consider the program.”

Currently there are 10 students receiving tuition support through Project GRACIAS.

Organizers warn that students have a service obligation upon completion of the program.

“For every year of funding” Valle-Riestra said, “you must work two years in special education or a related field.”

Valle-Riestra also said that if someone drops out of the program or fails to complete their service obligation they must repay all of the money they have used.

Many professionals feel the program will be beneficial to the level of education for all students within the U.S.

“Recognizing that all children are capable and competent learners, high-quality early childhood education is important,” Pachon-Reboredo said. “Young children who are literate in English, who have a good vocabulary and who are taught early reading skills before they start school are more likely to become good readers and achieve academic success throughout their school careers.”