Wayne State University College of Education awarded $1.25 million grant to strengthen special education instruction for students with disabilities

Project SUPPORT will prepare individuals to become adapted physical education specialists
Detroit – The Wayne State University College of Education received a $1.25 million grant award from the U.S. Department of Education to address a critical shortage of special education personnel in Michigan and across the nation. Project SUPPORT (Supporting Urban APE Personnel Preparation through Optimal Recruitment and Training) will prepare highly qualified adapted physical education (APE) specialists to serve students with disabilities.
According to the National Consortium for Physical Education for Individuals with Disabilities, adapted physical education is physical education instruction designed to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Teachers customize the curriculum to help individuals improve their motor and social skills, self-esteem, and sportsmanship.
“This grant demonstrates the college’s unwavering commitment to preparing future educators who can make a positive difference in the lives of all students,” said Leah Ketcheson, Ph.D., principal investigator, director of Project SUPPORT, and associate professor of health and physical education teaching in the College of Education. “We are grateful to the U.S. Department of Education for its support because it will allow us to continue meeting needs of students and families in Detroit and throughout Michigan.”
“I am excited about the college’s efforts to address the critical shortage of special education teachers in metro Detroit, the state of Michigan and across the country and to improve health outcomes for students with disabilities,” said Denise Taliaferro Baszile, Ph.D., dean of the College of Education. “Our location in the heart of Detroit, our partnerships with local school districts, and Leah’s passion for developing programs to address challenges young people with disabilities and their families may face uniquely position the college to make a positive impact. This initiative also supports our efforts to advance equity, excellence and well-being through community-based collaborative work for the public good.”
Project SUPPORT is an initiative housed within the college’s Center for Health and Community Impact, which strives to improve community health and vitality through diverse and inclusive programs, advocacy and research. The educators, clinicians, scientists and community leaders involved collaborate to advance health, well-being, equity and life success throughout communities locally, regionally and nationally.
The persistent shortage of special education personnel, particularly APE specialists, affects the quality of services available to students with disabilities. Project SUPPORT seeks to bridge this gap by providing funding, training and support for 37 individuals to become APE teachers over the next five years. The project will prioritize urban school districts, where these shortages are often most severe.
“This grant is an excellent example of Wayne State University’s commitment to improve our surrounding communities, and in particular, to address the need for special education teachers with expertise in adaptive physical education,” said Ezemenari M. Obasi, Ph.D., vice president for research at Wayne State University. “I look forward to the success of this important program led by Dr. Leah Ketcheson.”
“Children, families and schools in metropolitan Detroit area will benefit from this initiative,” said Ketcheson. “High-need, under-resourced school districts will gain access to a pipeline of highly qualified APE graduates, and students with disabilities and their families will have opportunities to work with educators who are uniquely prepared to meet their needs.”
Project SUPPORT will provide a comprehensive and rigorous curriculum designed to prepare a diverse group of teacher scholars — including multilingual and racially and ethnically diverse candidates — to serve individuals between the ages of 3 through 26 who have disabilities and high-intensity needs. The program will offer participants a strong academic foundation, professional development activities, internships in districts such as the Detroit Public Schools Community District and Dearborn Public Schools, and opportunities to engage with students with disabilities and their families through on-campus and community-based programs. This practical training, which will ensure graduates are fully prepared to address the diverse needs of students in PK-12 settings, aligns with Wayne State’s College to Career initiative, which seeks to provide all students with “learning by doing” opportunities that allow them to encounter the world, gain deeper insights and new perspectives, and prepare for prosperous careers.
“Completion of Project SUPPORT guarantees our teacher scholars are not only academically prepared but also have the practical experience necessary to excel in the classroom,” said Ketcheson. “All graduates will obtain their Michigan special education endorsement and national certification in adapted physical education, making them highly sought-after educators.”
Children with disabilities are more likely to be physically inactive and experience health disparities as compared to their peers. Project SUPPORT directly addresses this issue by increasing the number of qualified APE specialists who can deliver age-appropriate physical education programs. This initiative aligns with Wayne State’s Prosperity Agenda by offering students hands-on learning experiences, addressing workforce challenges, and increasing access to the services and support individuals with disabilities need to lead stronger, healthier lives.
“While the benefits of quality physical education are well-documented, children with disabilities often lack access to these crucial programs,” Ketcheson explained. “Project SUPPORT will help reduce these inequities by ensuring more students with disabilities can participate in health-enhancing activities and improve their overall well-being and by significantly increasing the number of qualified APE teachers who can positively influence the health and educational outcomes of children with disabilities in Michigan and beyond.”
The contents of this publication were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, #H325M240008. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.
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About the Wayne State University College of Education  
Anchored by its commitment to social justice, equity and inclusive excellence, the College of Education offers degree programs in more than 25 areas, including early and elementary education, counseling, educational leadership and policy studies, educational psychology, educational research and evaluation, exercise and sport science, learning design and technology, special education and sports administration. To learn more, visit education.wayne.edu.
About Wayne State University
Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit research.wayne.edu.
Wayne State University’s research efforts are dedicated to a prosperity agenda that betters the lives of our students, supports our faculty in pushing the boundaries of knowledge and innovation further, and strengthens the bonds that interconnect Wayne State and our community. To learn more about Wayne State University’s prosperity agenda, visit president.wayne.edu/prosperity-agenda.

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