UTEP to Study Ways State Can Retain ECI Specialists
Last Updated on March 31, 2021 at 12:00 AM
Originally published March 31, 2021
By Daniel Perez
The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) awarded part of a three-year, $750,000 grant to The University of Texas at El Paso to develop strategies for the State of Texas to retain early childhood intervention (ECI) personnel.
A team of interdisciplinary researchers from UTEP’s colleges of Education and Health Sciences will work with colleagues from the Texas Health and Human Services (HHS) ECI to study the best ways to prepare ECI specialists as well as how to support and mentor them at every experience level. The project started Feb. 1, 2021.
The retention of these well-qualified individuals with the requisite skills, knowledge and abilities is crucial to ensure the education, development and improved outcomes of children up to age 3 with developmental delays or disabilities, as well as their families. Children with special needs who receive ECI services are more likely to do well in school and less likely to need expensive education services.
The announcement of this grant-funded study follows the release of a federal report that found Texas was in “significant noncompliance” with early intervention service guidelines.
The UTEP research team consists of members from the College of Education’s Department of Educational Psychology and Special Services – Beverley Argus-Calvo, Ph.D., professor and associate dean; Kristopher Yeager, Ph.D., assistant professor; Trisha Ainsa, Ph.D., professor; and Amina Turton, Ph.D., visiting associate professor; as well as Thenral Mangadu, Ph.D., associate professor of public health sciences. The project coordinator is Cynthia Chavez, a doctoral student in UTEP’s Educational Leadership and Foundations program with a focus on public policy.
“I am very excited about the opportunity that this grant will provide developing retention strategies for early intervention specialists regionally and across the state,” Calvo said.
The UTEP team members, as well as their HHS counterparts, will work to coordinate and facilitate a personnel retention advisory workgroup, develop training on evidence- based retention strategies such as mentoring and leadership development, as well as several other activities aligned with the grant’s objectives.
Chavez, an early childhood educator for almost 40 years, said the benefits of this research will go beyond effective methods to attract, prepare and retain early intervention personnel. The hope is that ECI professionals will be able to provide screenings for children from birth at each campus in each district as well as programs that are equitable, sustainable and valuable for children with special needs and their families.
“By enriching preparation programs in the field, children and their families will have a constant feed of support and education in the areas of need specific to each family,” said Chavez, a UTEP alumna who earned her bachelor’s degree in education in 1977 and her Master of Education degree five years later. She expects to earn her doctorate in December 2021.
The grant comes from the DOE’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. The Texas HHS, the lead research agency, asked UTEP’s team to create the evaluation plan and the professional development courses for the state’s ECI personnel. Argus-Calvo said her team will plan, implement, evaluate, scale-up and sustain a comprehensive retention plan based on policies and practices that address factors that lead to low retention in special education or early intervention systems.
Texas was one of three states throughout the country to get this grant. The others were Georgia and Connecticut.