The first graduate cohort of teachers of students with visual impairments (TVI), prepared alongside school psychologists in the University of Utah College of Education, is set to graduate following the Fall 2021 Semester. The school psychology scholars will follow after completing additional program requirements.
The joint personnel preparation program is called Project TVISP: Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments and School Psychologists Collaborating through an Interdisciplinary Program to Improve Services and is supported by a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education awarded in 2019. Chris Bischke, professor of special education and Keith Radley III, associate professor of educational psychology, direct the program, which is funded through 2024 for up to 32 scholars. Additional faculty from the Department of Educational Psychology also include Janiece Pompa and John Davis. Additional faculty from the Department of Special Education includes Cathy Smyth.
“It has been an exciting experience to work with the faculty and scholars in the TVISP program,” Smyth says. “I think I have learned almost as much about school psychology as the other TVI scholars with all the speakers and panel members we have had as a part of our seminars!”
Three TVI scholars and three school psychology scholars comprise the first cohort.
“There is a significant need for collaboration between these professionals within schools,” Bischke says, “and the fact that they will better understand each other’s roles means more appropriate supports for students and families.”
“The most beneficial experience to me has been the collaboration with faculty members across specialties,” says Keely Lundy, a third-year doctoral scholar in the school psychology program and recipient of a Project TVISP grant. She’s become aware of an intense lack of assessment and intervention resources for both TVIs and school psychologists when working with children who are blind or visually impaired. “I have become motivated to provide increased resources to this community through research, in the hopes to further facilitate collaboration between professionals and, in general, better serve children, teens and adults who are blind or visually impaired.”
“Children who are blind or visually impaired are often assessed by school psychologists who may not be familiar with appropriate accommodations or modifications needed to help the child complete an assessment or learn within their classroom setting,” Bischke says. “On the flip side, school psychologists also have a wealth of knowledge that can benefit TVIs as they work with children.”
To the directors’ knowledge, no other graduate program in the U.S. co-prepares TVIs and school psychologists, making the U College of Education a leader in interdisciplinary special education. Additional U.S. Department of Education grants in 2020 added two more similar programs at the U: one that prepares special education teachers with an endorsement in deafblindness along with occupational therapists and one that prepares adapted physical education professionals along with speech-language pathologists.
A consultant who has worked as a TVI and a school psychologist with graduate degrees in both fields helped Bischke and Radley structure the program. “She has worked in both roles and has been a great support for the grant,” Bischke says.
The program is for anyone interested in a graduate degree in special education or school psychology. Funding is available to cover the majority, if not all, of the program’s tuition, and the faculty includes instructors from Illinois and Colorado, providing perspective from states other than Utah. The second cohort, consisting of five school psychology scholars and four TVI scholars will begin in summer 2021. Applications for the third cohort are due March 1, 2022, with a start date of summer 2022.