More teachers for blind and visually impaired students soon could begin filling voids in K-12 classrooms across Ohio because of an effort under way at the University of Toledo.
A professor at UT who heads the school's vision program - one of only two in the state - has been awarded a nearly $200,000 state grant to start recruiting and training 13 vision intervention specialists during the next year.
As part of the grant, the students will receive free tuition and stipends as well as assistance in seeking jobs.
In turn, they must agree to teach in Ohio for two years or forfeit any funding they received.
UT and Ohio State University were awarded the grants yesterday by the State Superintendent's Task Force for Preparing Special Education Personnel.
Thomas Stephens, executive director of the task force, said efforts at the two universities are needed to help increase the number of vision intervention teachers in state schools.
He said the programs should be able to produce a "steady supply" of teachers to offset further, anticipated teacher shortages.
The state has 1,375 blind and visually impaired students in 420 schools but only 60 certified teachers, according to J.C. Benton, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.
He added that of those 60 teachers, about half are nearing retirement.
Professor Sakui Malakpa, coordinator of the vision program in UT's Department of Early Childhood, Physical, and Special Education, said yesterday that he plans to work closely with Bowling Green State University on the project. Instruction will include summer and online courses.
Mr. Malakpa said he's still seeking students who are interested in enrolling in the program.
Before the grant announcement, Mr. Malakpa had a dozen students in the vision program. The grant will double that number.
Because of the vision teacher shortage and fact that only about 30 such programs exist at universities across the nation, Mr. Malakpa said he's confident students will be able to land jobs.
"It's just a wonderful area," said Mr. Malakpa, who is blind and serves as chairman of the Toledo Sight Center board.
"I want people to understand that if you're willing to move around the country, I can guarantee you a job. There's a shortage everywhere."
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