PRAISER Fostering Collaboration between Special Educators and School Social Workers

J. Shulman M.Ed.

Educating and supporting students with special needs is a delicate, multifaceted endeavor that requires camaraderie between professionals and families.School social workers and special education teachers must work together to provide an optimal learning experience by designing and implementing a scholastic program to meet the needs of these vulnerable students. Project PRAISER is a 5-year (interdisciplinary) personnel preparation grant sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) designed to train social workers and special educators to understand each other’s role for the betterment of students, as well as recruit and retain professionals in the field. Project PRAISER stands for Pedagogues Readily Addressing Interdisciplinary Special Education Requirements. The project combines efforts of the Clark County School District (CCSD) and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas from the Department of Early Childhood, Multilingual, and Special Education (EMS) and the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs. 

Dr. Monica Brown, Dr. Kathleen Bergquist, and Dr. Gillian Pinchevsky fostered this interdisciplinary research study to better educate and train professionals working with students who have disabilities. Project PRAISER was designed to better address the specific demands of students with severe emotional disorders that have high-intensity needs. Academic, social, and behavioral support for these students should be present in not only the school, but the home and community. The social workers and special educators that provide support will benefit from being aligned with one another to address the multifaceted concerns. Educating the school community on targeted practices for students diagnosed with emotional disorders can provide awareness to promote student well-being and to enhance academic skills.  Project PRAISER is developing a specific cross specialization curricula that combines elements of special education, social work, and criminal justice; and targeted evidence-based practices to apply in school settings to better assist students. Dr. Heather Van Ness (EMS) and Dr. Robbie Marsh (Mercer University) are instrumental in these efforts as they are serving as instructors and/or experts in emotional disorders for the participants by providing evidence-based practices. 

Project PRAISER is currently in its second year of a five year grant. The staff has worked to create course syllabi (for new courses), recruit professionals,, and secure field placement sites. The potential impact on the community is that schools will have better trained special educators and social workers who are more prepared to work more effectively with students with behavior disorders. In addition, the project encourages more students from underrepresented backgrounds to become social workers through a new certificate program founded in the College of Urban Affairs. Beyond recruitment, Project PRAISER has impressive goals of training and retaining 72 scholars (34 Special Education Teachers and 38 School Social Workers) over the course of four years with 50% of them being from underrepresented backgrounds.

Future goals of Project PRAISER are aligned to community outreach and potential policy changes surrounding the field of special education. Modifications in the training of school social workers and special educators with the goal of developing an enhanced symbiotic relationship  can lead to a more  coordinated and harmonious professional approach within and outside the classroom.  In addition, the overall understanding of these professionals’ roles and responsibilities, as well as  the multifaceted needs of students with disabilities can result in district level changes. Specifically, a more comprehensive utilization of the professionals employed to promote positive changes.