David H. Smith, an assistant professor of communicative disorders and deaf studies at California State University, Fresno, has been awarded a $798,672 federal grant to prepare teachers to help deaf and hard-of-hearing students in California schools.

Smith said the four-year grant from the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs is aimed at “helping alleviate a critical shortage of certified teachers statewide.”

The grant will fund scholarship stipends to students and improvements in the Deaf Education Credential Program operated through the Department of Communicative Disorders and Deaf Studies within the College of Health and Human Services.

Smith said the grant provides for a minimum of 20 students. “However, we anticipate that over four years we will certify at least 40 new teachers,” he added, because the grant will help pay for recruitment into the program and with retention of those who participate.

“This grant is a big step forward for our Department of Communicative Disorders and Deaf Studies. It’s also an important investment in our deaf and hard-of-hearing K-12 students throughout California,” said Dr. Benjamin Cuellar, dean of the College of Health and Human Services. “We are proud that we can conduct this much-needed program that thoroughly prepares teachers to be able to make an immediate difference in the classroom.”

Smith said that because many Fresno State graduates prefer to stay in the area, the teacher shortage is not as acute locally as in the rest of California. He said the shortage results from “increases in teachers nearing retirement age and students identified as deaf or hard-of-hearing via the recently implemented California Newborn Hearing Screening Program.”

About 40 teachers for the deaf and hard of hearing are credentialed annually by the state, Smith said. Fresno State is the only public university in the region offering the credential program.

Smith said he anticipates the first 10 students to complete credential studies at Fresno State in spring 2010 and that he hopes to increase that number in the future. Smith said it typically takes an entering freshman six years to complete the credential program, which usually is accompanied by a master’s degree.

“The focus of the grant is to encourage upper-division and postgraduate students to complete the credential program by providing financial aid,” Smith said. “An additional benefit is that the aid can be repaid through post-credential teaching, helping ease the minds of students starting to worry about the size of their student loans.”

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