Trumann’s Tina Foster, left, is pictured with assistant professor Renee Speight during a presentation Aug. 2 on the U of A RazorBug graduation tour in eastern Arkansas. The Graduation Tour celebrated graduates who earned U of A degrees online without leaving their hometowns, jobs, and families.
Five years ago, a team of U of A faculty members received a $1 million federal grant for a proposal to improve transition services for high school students with disabilities. Last month, the U of A RazorBug Diploma Tour visited the Trumann House of Tina Foster, one of several Arkansas special education teachers who received tuition assistance provided by the grant.
Foster uses what she learned from the online curriculum in her classroom at Valley View High School on the west side of Jonesboro.
“I hooked up the Masters in Special Education with other teachers,” Foster said. “Many special educators with bachelor’s degrees want to continue. Doing the master’s program was a way to meet other educators, to get more ideas, more ways to do things that make more sense.”
A magnetic Razorback sticker could be seen on Foster’s front door as Renee Speight, assistant professor of special education teaching, presented Foster with a framed diploma Aug. 2 for her master’s degree in special education. It was day two of the week-long tour through eastern Arkansas. U of A faculty and staff also traveled with the RazorBug to southern Arkansas and the River Valley in June and July to present framed degrees to graduates of online degree programs. More than 440 students graduated from online programs in May.
The RazorBug is a converted red Volkswagen Beetle that sports a Razorback muzzle, tail, and sharp spine. It has been used for recruitment and special events since 2005.
Foster said she felt called to teach special education.
“I went to special education because I believe God led me there,” she said. “My husband, Robin, had just finished seminary and had moved on to his first pastorate in East Texas. I spent the summer applying for jobs in the area with no success. Since Robin was bi-professional, he had also gotten a job driving a school bus, and while he was talking to his boss, he mentioned that I was looking for a job as a teacher.
Through this conversation, Foster learned that a local school needed to hire a specialist elementary level teacher.
“So I called the school that day and spoke to the principal, brought him my resume and license information, and he said, ‘I’ll hire you if you teach special education,'” recalls Foster. “I got an emergency certification as I was not SPED qualified and fell in love with working with special education students and have been teaching special education ever since. Literally teaching at all grades from K-12, but my favorite is high school.”
In 2017, Foster received an email from the Valley View Curriculum Coordinator about the initial U of A Teaming for Transitions Grant. The grant was renewed this year and applications for the next cohort will be accepted. this autumn.
The purpose of the grant is to prepare graduate students in special education, vocational rehabilitation, and social work to improve services for high school students with disabilities as they transition to adult life. An interdisciplinary team of faculty members from the College of Education and Health Professions and the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences worked with school districts and communities, in part to raise awareness that an interdisciplinary team is also needed in the school and community level to ensure the success of students with disabilities.
“The scholarship allowed me to get this degree,” Foster said. “Focusing on transition is important because it allows me to help my students and their families plan for their future. I can help them clarify what they want to do and what they are doing well. to help them and their parents with resources so they can achieve their dreams and be productive members of society.All students need this, but our special education students especially need this planning to help them to achieve their goals in life.
Foster attended the May graduation ceremony in Fayetteville, and she said it was nice to meet her classmates in person for the first time. Her husband, son and daughter, two grandchildren and parents also attended the ceremony.
Her advice for succeeding in an online degree program is to reach out.
“Get to know your cohort,” Foster said. “You can use the group chats and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Being over 50 and going back to school, it was nice to be with young people, and there were also older people. old.”
The RazorBug Diploma Tour was hosted by U of A’s Global Campus. Global Campus supports academic colleges that offer more than 75 online degree, certificate, micro-certificate, and bachelor’s degree programs. These programs are featured on the U of A ONLINE website at online.uark.edu.