A $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education will allow NIU to extend and expand its role as a leader in preparing teachers and administrators to battle bullying in schools.
This is the second time in five years that Project Prevent and Address Bullying has received a grant of more than $1 million from the Department of Education. The project directors are Michelle Demaray, Julia Ogg and Christine Malecki from the Department of Psychology and Jesse “Woody” Johnson from the Department of Special and Early Education (SEED).
The original grant specifically supported students in NIU’s nationally respected three-year program leading to a specialist degree and licensure in school psychology.
The new grant, which funds the program under the name Project Prevent and Address Bullying Behavior at all Tiers, combines the expertise of the school psychology program with that of the Special Education MS.Ed. Specialization in Behavior Analysis in SEED. Created in 2015, the program housed in the NIU College of Education produces master’s-level graduates who work as Board Certified Behavior Analysts in schools and other settings throughout the region. The program has been ranked as one of the top 32 Behavior Analysis programs for educators. The grant was funded on its first submission, which is a rare occurrence.
The goal of the PPABB, Demaray says, is to broaden the skill sets of both groups of students so that they are better equipped to collaborate on solutions for bullying among students, especially those with special needs.
“We hope that each set of students graduates with a better understanding of what the other does, so that they can collaborate more effectively and impactfully,” Malecki said. “Special education teachers are used to working with individuals, while school psychologists focus more on the classroom or school level. If each better understands the approach of the other, we think it will make both more effective.”
Johnson, who oversees the behavior analyst program in SEED, is excited at the collaboration. “It combines the strengths of two outstanding programs. When you put them together, you end up with a program that prepares people to work together across all three tiers of support,” he said.
The focus on assisting students with special needs was always an important aspect of the program because those students are involved in bullying about twice as much as other students; helping them will now become the primary emphasis.
The need for such a program was emphasized by a survey that the program directors conducted with school districts in the region as part of their grant application. Ninety-four percent of the school psychologists and special educators surveyed said that they could have benefitted from additional training in graduate school on how to address bullying in schools – both in general, but especially as it pertains to students with special needs.
“What we continue to learn is that bullying is a very complex issue,” Malecki said. “For kids with disabilities, it is even more complex. Do they understand friendly teasing versus bullying? Do they know how to stand up for themselves? Do they realize that sometimes they are being the bully?”
One of the unique aspects of the program is that most of the students enrolled in the school psychologist program will be coming directly from undergraduate programs while nearly all of those on the special education side will be teachers currently working in schools. The program will divide those enrolled students into teams of two, with one participant from each program, and they will proceed through the program taking nine classes together, in addition to classes specific to their individual fields.
During the second year of the program, the school psychology student will join the teacher in his or her classroom to collaboratively identify bullying issues and develop and implement responses.
Plans are to launch the program this January with special educators drawn from schools in DeKalb, Rockford and other districts across the region. Admission to the program will be highly competitive with only 24 total participants over the five-year span of the project. Participants will receive tuition waivers. Students in the psychology program will receive stipends to support some learning expenses and all are eligible to receive stipends to support conference travel.
PPABB builds on the success of its predecessor in helping to meet a critical need nationwide for both school psychologists and special educators with advanced training.
“All of the students from our first program are out working in schools as psychologists, or in leadership positions, and collectively they are serving thousands of students, almost all of them in Illinois schools,” Demaray said.
Another emphasis of the program will be increasing diversity in the fields of special education and school psychology.
“There is a huge shortage nationwide for school psychologists and special educators – but especially for those who look like and speak the same languages as the students they are working with,” Malecki said. “So, we will be trying to recruit qualified males, multilingual individuals and people of color to help diversify the field.”
More information about Project Prevent and Address Bullying Behaviors at All Tiers is available online.