SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. -Jodi Katsafanas, Slippery Rock University assistant professor of special education, is working to gather the expertise of special education teachers in many countries, and then help disseminate that information globally.
Katsafanas and her student researchers are researching "The Face of Inclusion Abroad: Philosophy, Policy and Practice." Katsafanas has been investigating international special education since joining the SRU faculty in 2007.
"Part of our work is being done with the International Association of Special Education that has a volunteer service committee working to facilitate the identification of special educational needs in developing countries and to connect an IASE member to those needs," Katsafanas said. She's been a member of IASE since 2009.
Her research shows there is a shortage of special education expertise and teachers in many countries. She is working to get the much-needed information to such countries as Bangladesh, India, Malawi, Mexico, Tanzania and Vietnam, among others.
The information most needed is strategies to support teachers in order to develop in their profession, she said.
"In many countries there is little if any support available for professional development in the schools. My goal is to help in supporting special education teachers in developing and expanding their own capacities in moving toward an inclusive educational setting for students with special learning needs," she said.
Her work has already included taking more than 80 SRU early childhood/special education students abroad to the Netherlands, Costa Rica, Greece and Spain. She plans to travel with students to Ireland in 2015.
While traveling, she and her SRU student researchers present to groups of students and faculty at universities in each of the countries they visit.
"At the sessions, we provide a historical perspective on the origins of inclusive practices in the United States, describing our educational shift from exclusion of students with special needs in our schools to the shift to integration toward inclusion. Then we discuss the practical changes that can be made at the school level with an emphasis on developing skills and strategies for teachers and policymakers who can develop and institute positive educational changes that impact educational services," Katsafanas said.
"I traveled with Dr. Katsafanas to Amsterdam and Barcelona, and I was extremely impressed by the education system as well as the different resources available to the students,” said Nicole Garofolo, a SRU early childhood and special education major and student researcher from Monroeville. “Our work there included visiting several schools, including the American School of the Hague and the School for the Deaf in Spain. It was amazing to see these students work in their environments and how they functioned in everyday life.”
"I think that we can make a difference by encouraging other students to take a look at how other countries education systems function because before I went into these schools, I would have never imagined them as they were. By traveling to these different places and gaining these wonderful experiences, it has not only made me grateful, but it has taught me more than I could have ever imagined learning in such a short time,” she said.
Brittany Bednar, an early childhood and special education major from Freeport who also worked on the research project, has traveled with Katsafanas to the same countries. “The trips were very organized and filled with educational adventures each day. I was really impressed by the beauty of the countries and the history of the areas that we were able to learn.”
"For example,” she said, “in Amsterdam we had the opportunity to go to visit the Leo Canner School for Autism. We were able to meet with the teachers and students there and observe the classes. By traveling to these countries, I learned so much about different cultures as well as the special education programs in Europe. When in Barcelona, we presented our research in special education to a class of university students at the University of Manresa.”
Katsafans' research also includes collecting data to further her study of special education abroad.
That work has shown the practice of developing inclusive schools involves: understanding the philosophy of inclusion as a continually developing process; strengthening and sustaining the participation of students, teachers and policymakers in the work of the school; restructuring the cultures, policies and practices in schools to respond to the diversity of student learning needs within their locality.
Her work on inclusive settings "focuses on identifying and then reducing the barriers to learning and participation; and identifying and providing support to teachers in the form of tools and strategies that expand their own capacities to provide inclusive education," she said.
Katsafanas spent a week last July presenting her research at the International Association of Special Education 13th Biennial conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her presentation, "The Roles and Responsibilities of Special Education Teachers," was awarded the IASE Research Award by the editor of the Journal of the International Association of Special Education and her will be published in the spring 2015 edition of the journal.
The conference was attended by scholars representing 35 countries.
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