Wayne State University

Aim Higher

Wayne State University

Public Relations

WSU project works to improve special education for minority students in southwest Detroit

August 11, 2009

DETROIT- Minority children with disabilities may have a more successful education ahead of them, thanks to a Wayne State project promoting family support to improve in special education outcomes.


 Julia Hernandez

Julia Hernandez, research assistant in WSU's Developmental Disabilities Institute (DDI) and resident of Detroit, received a $210,000 grant from the Michigan Developmental Disabilities Council of the Michigan Department of Community Health for the Supporting Educational Achievement for Minorities (SEAM) project. The project will support and assist a minimum of 20 minority families per year in southwest Detroit in navigating the special education system successfully.

"Studies on special education have found children with disabilities are more successful the less isolated they are from classmates that do not have disabilities," Hernandez said. "In addition, children more easily translate what they learn in the classroom setting if they aren't removed from their communities. We're hoping to use this information to create a better educational experience for children with disabilities in southwest Detroit."

Like many children across the country, southwest Detroit students with disabilities are sent to schools outside of the community for special education, which can have negative effects. "When students receive a separate education from their peers, it causes feelings of isolation for their parents and the larger community," said Angela Martin, L.M.S.W., research assistant at the DDI. "It has the same effect as racial or economic segregation."

Student isolation can become intensified in the largely Hispanic, African American and Arab American community of southwest Detroit, where language and cultural barriers can discourage parents from participating in classroom events outside of their immediate community.

The SEAM project will provide parents of children with disabilities ages 3 to 26 with a better understanding of their student's educational needs and promising educational practices, such as inclusive education. The training and family support will aid in navigating the children's education experience toward success and also in designing meaningful transition plans for students older than 14 that support community connections.

Classes will be taught in the native language of the participants, with Hernandez conducting the Spanish portion of the curriculum. The project will encourage parents of students with disabilities to participate in school and community events taking place in southwest Detroit.

"The more students with disabilities are visible in their communities, the more they will be accepted," Hernandez said. "It will open the door to a more successful education for students with disabilities and allow the community to truly embrace its own diversity."

The DDI is Michigan's University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities addressing policy, practice and research in disabilities statewide. For more information about the institute, its projects and activities, visit www.ddi.wayne.edu.

Wayne State University is one of the nation's pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting, ranking in the top 50 in R & D expenditures of all public universities by the National Science Foundation. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world.

5700 Cass Avenue, 3100 Academic Administration Building * Detroit, Michigan 48202
Phone (313) 577-2150 * Fax (313) 577-4459 * Newsline (313) 577-5345