PhD student seeks to expand special education prep programs in higher education

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Krystle Merry, second from left, is a doctoral candidate in the Razorback-Sooner Scholars: Leaders for Transition (L4T) program which enables her to better prepare future special education teachers.

Krystle Merry taught mathematics in secondary special education for 11 years. During this time, she acknowledged that many educators in school systems were often undertrained in special education, leading to high turnover rates and some students not receiving consistent services to succeed after graduation. .

Hoping to help expand special education preparation programs in higher education institutions so that future special education teachers can learn the advanced skills needed, she decided to pursue a doctorate at the U of A.

“I want to help support both general secondary and special education teachers in the field who work with students with special needs specifically transitioning or preparing for life after high school,” said she declared.

Merry said that prior to her doctoral program, she had never received formal training in special education.

“I learned everything on the job,” she said. “There is currently a significant need for special education teachers in schools across the state and nation. Inevitably, to increase the number of graduate special education teachers to obtain teacher certifications, especially in the ‘Arkansas – in addition to advocacy and recruiting – you need to have higher education programs in place.

She fell in love with “teacher teachers” during summer professional development sessions on inclusive environments, technology and the politics of special education. “Higher education has become the next step in my career to hopefully reach more educators earlier in their careers and as they build their licenses,” she said.

Merry is one of 10 doctoral students in the Razorback-Sooner Scholars: Leaders for Transition (L4T) program which enables her to better prepare future special education teachers. The U of A and the University of Oklahoma have partnered to deliver the program to address the critical need for teachers who know how to use evidence-based practices to improve outcomes for students with disabilities at age adult.

She was drawn to the L4T program for its genuine focus on supporting students with disabilities both academically and through life skills.

“Most people with and without disabilities spend their lives working and growing to improve their personal skills every day to live independently,” she said. “A lot of students and young adults straight out of high school really struggle with losing their one-on-one academic support. The L4T program and my advisors have greatly strengthened my interest-specific skills in integrating technology into the process. education for pre-graduation students, teachers, school districts, and families in hopes of improving long-term outcomes for students with disabilities.”

Merry’s research focuses on technology that can help facilitate learning for students in grades K-12 who have high-incidence disabilities like speech disabilities, other health conditions like ADD/ADHD, and autism . The technology can be anything from text-to-speech or audio books to augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices or eye observation software. “Whatever the student needs, it allows for greater inclusion with their peers,” she said. “Audiobooks, for example, are a universally designed learning tool that can benefit students with reading disabilities, English language learners, dyslexia, ADHD, or students with visual impairment.”

These types of technologies can help large populations of students. “Small accommodations or accessibility features that are available to all students in the classroom can meet a wide range of student needs,” she said.

As part of her doctoral program, Merry teaches U of A undergraduates in an “inclusive technology” class and will be teaching “Teaching Students with Exceptionalities” in the spring. She is also a field supervisor for pre-service teachers in the special education program.

Merry serves the special education community through several leadership and editorial positions. She also frequently presents at national conferences on assistive technology case law, accessibility, online work-based learning, digital community resource mapping, special education teacher preparation, student twice outstanding and the integration of technology into secondary special education programs, including student transition. post-secondary institutions and employment.

During the summer, she was an intern at the Center for Special Applied Technologies (CAST), a non-profit educational research and development organization. CAST created the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework and guidelines to make learning more inclusive in K-12 and higher education institutions. She was recently invited to continue her internship throughout the fall.

“I now disaggregate data from various county districts and states for CAST’s Center on Technology and Inclusive Education Systems (CITES) to inform their leadership, teaching and learning frameworks,” she said.

Merry eventually wants to teach special education at the college level. She hopes to obtain her doctorate in 2024.


This story is the latest in a series featuring students, faculty and staff in the College of Education and Health Professions that illustrate the core of the college WE CARE Priorities. The college is helping solve complex education and health challenges in Arkansas and beyond through this new initiative. Visit COEHP’s online magazine, the Coworkerfor more news from the six units that make up the college.

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