A woman sitting in a classroom listening to the lecture

Building Stronger Supports for BIPOC Special Education Teachers

The University of Pittsburgh School of Education is launching a new program that will offer enhanced support for Students of Color and create more practitioner-centered programming within its master’s in special education teacher prep program.

Led by Assistant Professor Phillandra Smith, the BIPOC Educator Mentorship and Support (BEAMS) program is funded through a $100,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

BEAMS will serve as an affinity group space to support BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color) students enrolled in the Master of Education in PreK-12 Special Education program.

Smith notes that BIPOC students enter the field of special education from a unique position given the ways that race and dis/ability intersect in special education. She wants BIPOC students aspiring to be special educators to have opportunities to collectively process the ways that racism and ableism collude to influence their work and their students’ schooling.

“I hope BEAMS can be a place for us to imagine and operationalize  justice, resistance, and activism in special education while tending to the intersections of disability and race,” says Smith. “BEAMS will be a space to foster community and resist the isolation that exists for BIPOC practitioners in special education.”

She continued, “It is my hope that we will be able to engage in collaborative problem solving, community care, and joy as we collectively process the significance of our work and commitment to the discipline. BEAMS students will participate in mentoring with their peers and Faculty and Practitioners of Color. They’ll have a chance to share experiences, ask questions, and receive personalized support.”

The PDE grant provides funding for giving t incoming students small tuition subsidies and money to purchase books.

Additionally, the grant is being used to bring in practitioners  from across Western Pennsylvania schools to co-teach several of our classes in the program.

“We’re seeking to bridge the gap between theory and practice in special education,” says Smith.

Smith wants BEAMS to be a part of the School of Education’s strategy to attract BIPOC  students into the teaching profession at a time when Pennsylvania faces a worsening shortage of new teachers.

For now, the BEAM program has funding for only the MEd in PreK-12 Special Education program.  That may not always be the case, though.

“With time and more resources, I would love to see it expand,” says Smith.