Fordham has received a $1.2 million grant to train early childhood educators to become highly qualified in the field of special education.

Awarded on Sept. 29 by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the Department of Education, the funds will allow 40 educators to receive about 70 percent tuition funding at the Graduate School of Education (GSE).

Chun Zhang, Ph.D. Photo by Gina Vergel

“The grant is a recognition that the special education program at our Graduate School of Education is one of the finest programs in the country,” said James Hennessy, Ph.D., dean of GSE. “The tuition support will help provide 40 superbly prepared teachers to our area’s schools.”

Chun Zhang, Ph.D., professor of education, is the principal on the project, “Preparing Early Childhood Special Educators for Inclusion and Addressing Challenging Behavior: A Training of the Trainers Approach (PECSE),” which will educate two cohorts of 20 students in early childhood special education (birth to grade 2) over the course of four years.

“Professor Zhang is among the most well-regarded people in her field,” Hennessy added.

Zhang received an $800,000 grant four years ago to prepare 40 early education teachers in raising the performance of young learners with special needs. The last cohort of 20 students supported by that grant will graduate this May.

“This is nice to have another project in my area of early special childhood education (ECSE),” Zhang said, “especially since funding is very tight right now. This is wonderful news.”

Because the New York City Department of Education is striving to make most of its schools inclusive for all students, highly qualified teachers in the chronic shortage areas—such as special education—are very much in demand, Zhang said.

The PECSE project will provide pre-service training and summer institutes in addition to the 30 credits leading to ECSE certification. Zhang and her team of field observers will focus on an area in which they found teachers struggling during the last project: dealing with the challenging behaviors of children who lack social skills or have developmental delays.

“The goal is to train teachers using research-based practices so they can help these children develop appropriate social, cognitive and preschool readiness skills, so that by the time they enter kindergarten, they can be in the inclusion program and truly be part of the school curriculum,” Zhang said.

Forty percent of the students involved in this project will come from diverse backgrounds, she added.

“These teachers are ideal to work with children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and their families, especially in the urban areas,” she said.

Similar to the previous project, the PECSE project will involve close supervision and observation.

“These are certified teachers who already have classrooms. We monitor them from the beginning to end by having field specialists work with them closely, observing and mentoring. Also, the teachers will attend two reflective seminars per month to help them grow individually and as a group.

“I want them to become trainers in their own school system so they can share techniques with colleagues who also work with a special education population. I want them to see themselves as leaders,” Zhang added.


Gina Vergel is Senior Director of Communications. She oversees the digital news coverage, public relations, and social media for the university. Before joining Fordham in 2007, Gina worked as a reporter for the Home News Tribune, and The Ridgewood News, where she won Society of Professional Journalist (New Jersey chapter) awards for breaking news and feature writing, respectively. She can be reached at [email protected] or (646) 579-9957.