Transcript: Elizabeth Flores on WJRW Grand Rapids

Host: It's 9:34 at Newstalk 1340, WJRW. I'm Dave Jaconette and happy to welcome to our studios Elizabeth Flores. She is the Director of Education Preparation Services at Aquinas College and she's in our studio right now. We got a news release, I guess it was last week, that mentioned that Aquinas College is now partnering with the Michigan Department of Education for the only deaf and hard-of-hearing endorsement in the state, which is significant. Sounded significant, so we thought we'd have Elizabeth in to talk about this and what it will mean for students who get this certification. So, thank you very much for coming in, Elizabeth.

Flores: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

Host: Yeah, so tell us first of all a little bit about what this will mean and how Aquinas thought this might be a good thing for its students and the college.

Flores: Sure, sure. The Michigan Department of Education, Office of Special Education created this consortium that involves institutions from all over the country. And after the consortium was created, they were looking for a partner to help with the day-to-day logistics and administration of the program. And so that's where Aquinas comes in. We were interested in helping out to provide this service to the teaching community and it's an opportunity for folks who already have a teaching certificate to add the deaf/hard-of-hearing endorsement to their certificate so they can work in a setting with deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Host: Okay. And so what kind of training does that mean? What did this consortium come together in terms of guidelines or instruction?

Flores: Well, the standards are based on the Michigan Department of Education standards for certification in deaf/hard of hearing. And the institutions all over the country have expertise in deaf/hard of hearing education. So there are courses in audiology, language acquisition, various things that deal with deaf and hard-of-hearing education. Teachers also have to have ASL, American Sign Language preparation in order to complete the requirements for the endorsement. And all teachers who complete the endorsement program will take a test, a certification test, in order to be able to qualify for the endorsement on their certificate.

Host: Is there a timeline how long it takes to complete this endorsement?

Flores: It's pretty flexible. Teachers have the ability to choose their own pace. I think average is going to be about 2 years. We are at the very beginning. We just had our first group of candidates start last fall in 2013, and they are all teachers and working as teachers. So, most of them take 1 or 2 courses a semester. And roughly 2 years will be, will be average for completing the program.

Host: Okay, and everybody who goes through it is an educator.

Flores: Correct. Exactly.

Host: Okay. And why was this important for Aquinas to say, we want to step up and, you know, be the lead.

Flores: Sure. We have a long history as a college that prepares teachers. That was how Aquinas actually had its beginning, as an institution to prepare teachers. And we really see this as an opportunity to give something back to the field. This is a high-need area, this field of special education in deaf/hard of hearing, and we wanted to provide this service, to help sort of guide teachers through this program so that they can then meet the needs in the educational community in schools.

Host: Okay. And I did not know this was a growing problem, but apparently it is with kids, right?

Flores: Yes. There are a couple of issues. One is that there is no other program in the state of Michigan to be able to qualify for this endorsement. And also this is a shortage area. There are not enough teachers certified in this area presently and also the Michigan Department of Education statistics indicate that a large number of teachers are going to be retiring over the next few years so there is going to be a need to replace folks who are already trained in this area.

Host: Okay, yeah. YouĂ­ve got to replace that talent.

Flores: Exactly.

Host: And help those students that need the help. Is there anything geographic to this program? In other words, if people want the certification, they're coming to the west side of the state, they're coming to Grand Rapids to take the program, or could they do it remotely?

Flores: Students can participate in this program from anywhere in the state of Michigan.

Host: Okay.

Flores: Teachers do have to have a Michigan teaching certificate. The program is all online, so teachers are able to participate no matter where they are. The institutions that offer the online courses are all over the country and teachers are, there are some teachers here in Grand Rapids who are in the program. I'm working with some teachers in the Upper Peninsula, teachers in the Detroit area. So, a teacher anywhere in the state of Michigan who has a teaching certificate is eligible.

Host: Okay. And obviously the word is out. You're talking to teachers all the time about this?

Flores: Yes. Exactly. We're very excited.

Host: Okay. Very good. And is there any support that's going on locally? I know that there's a deaf and hard-of-hearing services organization in Grand Rapids, but that's a totally separate issue, right?

Flores: That's correct. That's not a teacher certification or a state of Michigan organization. I'm sure that they do wonderful work there and we may in the future have an opportunity to partner with them. But at this point, we're working with our participating institutions and the Michigan Department of Ed.

Host: Okay. So, I'm curious because at the college level, you're, I mean, your title to me is a grabber. Director of Education Preparation Services. You're involved in getting teachers up to speed, up to snuff. Which, as you mentioned, is really the original mission of Aquinas College.

Flores: Exactly, yes.

Host: So, how we doing in this area with, with training teachers? Because I mean we're in the information age. We are bombarded with all kinds of information, some of it good, some of it maybe not so good. So, how do you filter and how do you direct everything? And even at the, like at the college level, how do you coordinate it?

Flores: It's a very challenging time to be in the field of education, there's no question about that. We are doing a lot of different things to help make sure that our students have the preparation that they need to be successful. We have a very, very strong focus on field placements within our program. So, students are taking their classes on campus at Aquinas with their Aquinas professors. They're also going out into the field in K through 12 classrooms and putting into practice those skills that they're learning, having an opportunity to see what it's like to be a teacher every day and to make sure that they are ready for the field that they're going to be entering. It's a big focus for us.

Host: Is it a large percentage these days? I know that you've got students that are getting prepared for jobs in every field these days but what percentages of students at Aquinas now go into education? Is it a large number?

Flores: That's a good question. I believe that our, the education program, we offer both elementary and secondary certification, and it is one of the larger programs at Aquinas. I don't have those numbers in front of me right now, I'm sorry, but as a, as a small institution, teaching has always been a very big part of what we do.

Host: Okay, very good. And so the first class for this new teaching endorsement has already started, and they've been, it's been about a year, you said?

Flores: Yep. We had our first group go through the first year and again, students get to choose how many classes they take and how quickly they move through the program. But our first group is continuing strong this coming school year and we are hoping to have another strong group start this fall as well.

Host: Well, I'm sure it'll be big. As you mentioned, the need is there and, you know, people retire and do other things and so you've got to replace those and also the awareness on the whole deaf and hard-of-hearing issues that are out there. I appreciate it. I appreciate you giving us some insight into that world of education and preparing teachers as well. That's got to be fun. Teaching the teachers, right?

Flores: Exactly. Thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it.

Host: You bet. Elizabeth Flores is the Director of Education Preparation Services at Aquinas College and again, now the only Michigan college to have this deaf and hard-of-hearing teaching endorsement. Pretty cool stuff there at Aquinas College. Thank you so much.

Flores: Thank you.

Host: You bet. This is Newstalk 1340, WJRW, 9:41. We'll take a quick break and be back in just a moment.