A federal grant for $1.18 million is allowing Western Michigan University, located in Kalamazoo, Mich., to offer a first of its kind free online master's degree for physical education teachers.
The degree, a master of arts in physical education with an emphasis in special (adapted) physical education, is being offered in a hybrid format. Online courses are being taught by Western Michigan University's Graduate School of Human Performance and Health Education. Students supplement online courses by attending seminars on campus as needed.
This unique hybrid online master's in special education degree for teachers is state approved in adapted physical education. The degree combines online theory courses with classroom labs in adaptive teaching techniques.
The new, tuition-free online degree helps physical education teachers learn to work with kids who have been classified as special need due to either mental or physical disabilities. Teachers who enroll are taught key motor skills and patterns, physical and motor fitness, aquatics, dance, and individual and group recreational skills.
Applicants for the hybrid online program must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. A valid teaching certificate is required for students who aim to obtain state approvals (endorsements). Endorsement students must enter the program with a physical education or special education major or minor.
Dr. Jiabei Zhang, a WMU professor of health, physical education and recreation, says that the federal grant pays for 100 percent of tuition and textbooks for approved students. Zhang directs the degree program in collaboration with Extended University Programs. The hybrid online master's degree was created in fall 2009. In spring 2011, federal funds began to underwrite the program.
As more children are moved into less restrictive learning environments, the demand for teachers trained in adaptive physical education is growing rapidly, Zhang says. It is estimated some 10 to 12 percent of public school children require adapted physical education.
"There is a significant shortage of adapted physical education teachers in the public schools," Zhang says. "That is a major problem public schools have right now."
He designed the unique program to help address the need for an online learning program as expressed by potential applicants in Michigan and neighboring states.
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