Donna Gibson, Ph.D., at left, and LaRon Scott, Ed.D., at right.

VCU professors receive $1.2 million grant to train counselors to support students with disabilities

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Two faculty members in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education have received a $1.2 million federal grant to boost the number and quality of school counselors who serve as related service providers for students with disabilities.

The five-year grant, “A Collaborative Model of Preparing School Counseling Students as Related Service Providers to Students with Disabilities,” from the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs will integrate research on self-determination and social cognitive career theories to prepare school counselors-in-training to address the academic, behavioral and social needs of pre-K-12 students, with a specific focus on transition planning for secondary students with disabilities.

The goal is to improve both the academic and functional success for a child with a disability.

“Transition services are a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability,” said project co-director LaRon Scott, Ed.D., assistant professor of special education in the Department of Counseling and Special Education. “The goal is to improve both the academic and functional success for a child with a disability. The transition planning process includes the development and execution of plans that would improve education, employment, school to post-school activities and other necessary experiences of a child with a disability.”

According to 2015 data from the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 13 percent of all public school students ages 3–21 receive special education services.

Meanwhile, only about 24 percent of all accredited school counseling graduate programs require any special education courses in their degree requirements. Yet research shows that school counselors are actively involved in transition planning for 61 percent of students with disabilities.

“Specific preparation and training to provide transition planning is needed for school counselors,” said project director Donna Gibson, Ph.D., associate professor and counselor education program coordinator in the Department of Counseling and Special Education. “This grant will provide tuition support and resources for school counseling students in the grant-funded program during the next five years.”

The goal of the project is to prepare 20 school counseling students as related services providers. The project is also aiming to recruit diverse scholars and students with disabilities.

The training will be provided by faculty in the Department of Counseling and Special Education, which was recently created by a merger of the School of Education’s counseling and special education departments. Both departments have long been recognized as leaders in their fields.

“The competencies that student scholars will obtain are based on theories from each of these fields, which include evidence-based practices that provide a method for evaluating scholar competencies,” Gibson said. “Our hope is that in obtaining these competencies, school counselors will have a more positive influence in the outcomes of students with disabilities they serve in public schools.”