Innovating Boldly: Belmont's Reimagined Special Education Program Prepares Teachers to Reach All Learners

students in class
College of Education

Innovating Boldly: Belmont's Reimagined Special Education Program Prepares Teachers to Reach All Learners

April 9, 2024 | by Cara Davis

An Integrated Approach 

At Belmont University's College of Education, faculty are living out the mission to "teach brilliantly and innovate boldly" through a unique, integrated approach to preparing special education teachers. The college recently reimagined its special education program, drawing on the expertise of faculty like Dr. Sally Barton-Arwood and Dr. Lauren Lunsford, both professors in the College of Education and graduates of Vanderbilt's renowned doctoral program in special education.  

What sets Belmont's program apart is the high degree of integration and collaboration between special education and general education. "It's very feasible for a student to come in and decide to be dually degreed," said Lunsford. Candidates can graduate licensed in elementary education with add-on endorsements in special education and English language learning, a triple license that positions them to teach and reach all learners. 

Infusing Special Education Throughout the Curriculum 

dr-lauren-lunsford.jpgThis integrated philosophy permeates the curriculum. All elementary education majors take courses from special education faculty, ensuring exposure to critical concepts like Universal Design for Learning and high-leverage practices often siloed in special education. "It's part of our methods instruction, that all students would know what high leverage practices are," said Lunsford. "I don't think you would find that at a regular ed program at another college." 

Cutting-Edge Research Meets Bold Application 

The commitment to cutting-edge, applicable research also sets Belmont apart. Faculty stay connected to the latest scholarship through partnerships like The CEEDAR Center, an organization focused on inclusive practices. But the emphasis remains on bold application. "We really take that cutting edge research and look at how to apply that," Lunsford said.  

Robust Community Partnerships 

Those applications take shape through robust community partnerships that provide critical field experience for Belmont students. The college collaborates closely with local schools, including a new partnership with Ensworth School as they implement a special education curriculum, Orton-Gillingham, for all K-2 students to proactively address any impending reading difficulties. "Our students will be able to see what happens when you take a special ed curriculum and implement it in a regular ed classroom," Dr. Lunsford said, "and really kind of how blurred those lines should be."  

By the Numbers 

The Need 

  • Approximately 7.5 million American students (15% of the student population) qualify for special education services and require individualized education plans (IEPs). 
  • At the start of the current school year, 70% of surveyed schools nationwide reported vacancies for special education teachers. 
  • 47 of the 170 currently open teacher positions in the Metro Nashville Public Schools system are for exceptional education (about 28%). 
  • Students with disabilities are, on average, more than three years behind their peers. 

Belmont’s Approach 

  • 100% of our students take at least one class that delves into the meaning of diversity in education, including special education. 
  • Belmont graduates can earn a triple license in elementary education and add-on endorsements in special education and English language learning. 
  • 96.15% career placement rate (2023) with the majority of students securing teacher positions by the time they graduate.  

Preparing a New Kind of Special Educator 

With a significant shortage of special education teachers nationwide, Belmont graduates enter a field with pressing needs. Through its innovative, integrated approach and commitment to applied research, Belmont's College of Education is preparing a unique kind of special educator – one equipped with the skills and mindset to teach and reach every learner. 

Learn more about the special education program at Belmont.