Special Education licensure and endorsement varies from state to state, as does the terminology used in describing the knowledge that is required and the students to whom it applies. In general, the terms “high-incidence,” “adaptive,” “cross-categorical” and “multi-categorical” have similar meanings.
A few years ago, teacher Sydney Castonguay, (M.S.E., ‘20) was at a critical career crossroads. She loved to teach but she felt something was missing. Deep down, she knew she wanted more out of her present teaching role, including greater experiences and connections. She also knew she wanted to make a bigger difference in the field, specifically in special education. She just wasn’t sure how to get where she wanted to be—until she pursued online graduate learning at the University of Kansas.
Read more to learn how earning both her graduate certificate in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and her master’s degree in high incidence disability (HI), from top-ranked KU, has helped Sydney Castonguay find a renewed interest in education that has launched her new career focus and propelled her to pursue her doctorate.
Motivated To Do More With KU
After one year of teaching at a public school, Sydney knew she wanted to do more in education and in her career. Her main goal was to really reach the students of different learning abilities that she was seeing more often in her school. “I felt I had a pretty solid understanding from my bachelor's degree of how to teach at and above level students, but I was really struggling with reaching those lower learners, and that's why I originally enrolled in my master's program," she says. " I wanted to go in-depth on how to support students with ASD as a general education teacher because more and more students with high functioning autism are in my classroom.”
Things developed to a point where Sydney, who has a bachelor’s in elementary education with a specialization in elementary math, wasn’t sure she wanted to stay in the field. Even after switching districts for her second year of teaching, she describes her teaching situation, at that time, as “not a good fit” for her. "I didn't have much support in my school. I couldn’t connect with a lot of my colleagues,” she says.
Coming from a family of teachers, she expected things to get easier, but things were not progressing as she hoped in a field she knew, at a core level, she was still passionate about.
But Sydney was not ready to give up on teaching. She hoped a new, refreshing perspective on education would help her unlock better possibilities for herself and her students. She found what she was looking for at KU.
Why Choose KU?
Sydney says after hearing great things about the program, she did her own research and appreciated that KU has the nation’s top-ranked special education program in an online format. In addition to allowing her to obtain her master’s without having to relocate, KU checked these other boxes that were important to her in advanced online learning:
- It was flexible
- It had synchronous learning opportunities through Canvas
- It was taught by experienced teachers who could coach her through tailored assignments and offer real-time feedback
- It targeted the specific HI and ASD special education needs of her students with evidence-based practice
- It had a cohort she could share ideas with and connect with
Ultimately, Sydney shares that she enrolled in KU’s top-rated master’s program to truly find out if education was “the right field” for her. She got an overwhelmingly positive answer.
An Online Learning Format That Works
KU’s online format helps you in the field; students receive feedback immediately through engaging, evidence-based coursework delivered in an immersive online experience. Students access the program through Canvas, an online application available on both the iPhone OS and Android platforms.
Sydney says that she found KU’s HI and ASD special education programs had much more to offer in an online format than she expected. Specifically, she highlights her programs’ applicable content, immediate feedback, and connection as success drivers.
Immediate Feedback and Direct Application
“There was not a single assignment that I completed where I didn’t feel I was learning something that I could use the next day in the classroom,” she says. “Dr. McKeithan and Dr. Griswold were awesome at letting me do the assignments around my own students. For example, I had a student I wanted to use a social story with. My instructor helped me to target that student's specific needs. I did so, as an assignment, and received feedback. I was then able to immediately apply that with the student.”
In Sydney’s opinion, the video discussions were one of the best things about the program. “You're going to want to participate in the discussions because you talk with your peers around the world and get feedback at that moment. I've learned so much from engaging with my peers and building connections.”
KU’s online format facilitated connections for Sydney in ways her previous, traditional academic experiences hadn’t. “I've made connections here that I didn't make in brick-and-mortar schools,” she says. While earning her degree, Sydney felt tremendously connected to the program and had plenty of rich opportunities for networking in its online format that others can benefit from. “This is the place to be if you want to build a caring community—and be truly knowledgeable and feel like you have a solid foundation—in education.”
Overall, the program delivered what she needed most to help her more effectively reach her classrooms of diverse learners: “I felt that the high incidence program really helped me to target my students with learning disabilities and language-based disabilities.”
Supportive Faculty That Make A Difference
While Sydney mentions the curriculum and cohort of the program as being strong motivators to her obtaining her degree, she also credits KU faculty for helping her remain in the field and find a new passion for education, in particular, Dr. Marti Elford and Dr. Glennda McKeithan.
Dr. Elford earned her doctorate at the University of Kansas and was the Program Designer for KU’s online High Incidence Disabilities Teacher Education Practicum program when Sydney was enrolled. She has experience as an instructional coach and a classroom teacher and is a reading specialist.1
Sydney shares, “Dr. Elford gave me the confidence to believe in myself and know that I was helping others and that I had the potential to make a big impact and a big difference in the field of education.
Dr. McKeithan is a lecturer and program associate for the KU ASD MSE and Graduate Certificate programs. She earned her BA in English and her MEd in Special Education and Ph.D., in Curriculum & Instruction from North Carolina State University. Her specializations include autism and autism assessments, social-behavioral interventions, and curriculum development strategies.2
Sydney is also quick to praise KU’s Dr. McKeithan, an expert educator who brings more than 20 years of experience to the online graduate classrooms she instructs. “Dr. McKeithan helped me understand how to be a better writer and how my written contributions, and my knowledge, are going to help others in the field of education.” Sydney adds, “I want to give credit to Dr. Elford and Dr. McKeithan for really helping me stay in the field of education.”
Her special education online HI master’s degree and ASD graduate certificate from KU have helped her carve a new path in education that’s positively impacting her career and the new school where she teaches. “I now work in a fantastic school, I have great support, and I've received compliments from my administrators on the quality of my teaching and the knowledge that I bring.”
But Sydney isn’t stopping here. Emboldened by KU’s supportive faculty—and her graduate and certificate experience—Sydney is already taking the next big step to advance her education. “I'm enrolled in the Spring 2021 cohort in KU’s doctorate of education and special education program,” she says. "Dr. Elford was the first person who approached me and asked if I had ever thought about pursuing a doctoral degree. She actually wrote me a letter of recommendation when I told her I was applying for my doctoral program. I'm getting a bit teary-eyed because she really has made a huge difference in my life. The letter she wrote for me was so powerful, and meaningful, that I actually have it printed out and hanging in my bedroom. She helped me to see that I have the potential to be very impactful in this field of education.”
Making a Real-World Impact in Education
After graduating from the HI master’s program in the fall of 2020, Sydney has returned to classroom teaching, as a first-grade teacher, with a renewed love for education and new leadership roles at her school. Having gained the latest skills and knowledge for special education, Sydney is making a big difference for her students and other teachers in the field, even among those who have been teaching for longer.
“I feel proud I am now someone people turn to for support and ideas. I've been selected as a model teacher to have other teachers come, and watch, and learn strategies that I've learned from being in KU's high incidence and ASD programs,” she says.
Being seen as a leader that educator peers and administrators can rely on has been an important accolade for Sydney. “I've been complimented on my knowledge of special ed law, my knowledge of different disabilities, and ways to support these students. That's all thanks to KU's high incidence and ASD programs.”
She has a few closing notes about the programs she feels have propelled her to a new pace in education. She says, “The high incidence program really helped me to target my students with learning disabilities and language-based disabilities. KU’s HI and ASD programs are phenomenal and they have changed me into the person that I am today.”
A Proud Jayhawk
Sydney is happy to be a University of Kansas Jayhawk and encourages others to join a growing network of professionals who are driven to excel as students and as educators. According to Sydney, “Be proud to walk away as a Jayhawk and a KU graduate. To anyone who's out there that's considering this program, this is the place you want to be.”
Renew Your Passion For Education.
Find your new calling in education with an online master’s degree from the University of Kansas School of Education and Human Sciences. Learn to engage students of all ages in our Department of Curriculum and Teaching, share your gifts with students with disabilities in our Department of Special Education, or keep motivation strong in instructional teams in our Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. We offer online master’s degrees, graduate certificates, and licensure endorsement programs, and our admissions advisors are here to answer your questions. Get in touch with us today.
- Retrieved on September 21, 2021, from lifespan.ku.edu/people/martha-elford
- Retrieved on September 21, 2021, from specialedu.ku.edu/glennda-mckeithan