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The ‘ARTC’ of Special Education

Among the myriad acronyms that pepper the vocabulary of educators, ARTC is a relatively recent addition.

It stands for Alternative Routes to Teacher Certification, and it is of particular importance to paraeducators (also known as teacher’s aides or classroom assistants), who are responsible for specialized or concentrated assistance for students in elementary and secondary schools.

Wilmington University first offered the ARTC Pathway to complete the Master of Special Education degree in the fall of 2018. The program enables graduates from regionally accredited institutions of higher education to earn a master’s degree and Delaware licensure/certification in one or more of these areas: teachers of preschool exceptional children, teachers of K-12 students with disabilities, and teachers of students with autism and/or severe disabilities.

Says Special Education Chair Dr. Donna Mitchell: “I began developing the program when I realized 87 percent of those enrolled in that degree were paraeducators, working in Delaware public schools already. And many were faced with the challenge of having to take a leave of absence from their employment to complete their student teaching.  Many were not able to do this since their income and health care were a vital part of their family’s economic success. Leaving their job with no pay and also paying for their own health insurance for 15 weeks was a serious hardship.  This led to many of them graduating with the Education Studies degree and not being able to transition to a teaching role, their life’s dream.”

Thanks to WilmU’s ARTC Pathway, those enrolled in the M.Ed. Special Ed degree and meeting the state ARTC eligibility criteria can receive a letter of eligibility permitting them to begin applying for teaching positions in the area of Special Education and the content subject area for which they are qualified – without having to take a leave of absence. 

Dr. Mitchell says the full degree can be completed in as little as 18 months, while students complete their two-year term as an ARTC teacher of record.

The ARTC Pathway is a welcome option for many WilmU students pursuing a master’s in Special Ed. Says Tanya DeCosta Guinals, a former paraeducator and now a third-year teacher in the Red Clay School District: “The ARTC program offers access to experienced educators from various levels of educational hierarchy who serve as mentors. The weekend workshops are great because they avoid conflict with your work schedule and provide motivational interaction with colleagues and classmates. The people you meet here can relate to your journey and form a support system outside the classroom. And the ARTC administrative staff goes above and beyond to support their candidates. If teaching is new for you, the ARTC program is the way to go.”

Dr. Mitchell points out that the state and nation are facing a serious teacher shortage, especially in teaching students with exceptionalities. Meanwhile, she says, administrators are trying to hire more teachers who reflect the growing diversity of student populations. 

“As it happens, the paraeducator pool in Delaware is extremely diverse,” she says. “Many of our paraeducators are non-white and offer diversity across the underrepresented populations of teachers in our teacher workforce. What’s more, our enrollment in ARTC currently reflects over 40 percent teachers of color. So this seemed like the perfect time to include ARTC in our offerings.”

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