CCU faculty members receive five-year grant to prepare early childhood and special education teachers for workforce

October 12, 2023
Deborah L. Rooks-Ellis, Ph.D.Rhonda Miller, Ph.D.

Two faculty members in the Coastal Carolina University Spadoni College of Education and Social Sciences, Deborah L. Rooks-Ellis, Ph.D., an associate professor of early childhood education, and Rhonda Miller, Ph.D., an associate professor of special education, received a five-year grant, totaling nearly $1.25 million, for a teacher preparation project titled “Project Build Interdisciplinary Capacity to Yield Culturally-responsive Leaders in Early childhood-Special education (BICYCLES).”

Project BICYCLES is an initiative across two CCU educator preparation programs, early childhood and special education. Co-directed by Rooks-Ellis and Miller, Project BICYCLES is supported by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs.

This grant will prepare preservice and in-service teachers to design, deliver, and advocate for culturally and linguistically responsive intervention, instruction, and assessment practices for children with high-intensity needs and their families. This includes children who are multilingual or racially, ethnically, and/or culturally diverse. High-intensity also refers to the magnitude of impact of these needs, specifically that early difficulties place children at high risk of later difficulties in reading, behavior, academic success, and long-term health and wellness.

The project is designed to increase the diversity of South Carolina’s teachers to reflect the communities and children they serve. The three primary objectives of BICYCLES include:

• Attracting, recruiting, retaining, and promoting a diverse pool of scholars.

• Preparing early childhood and special education practitioners who can provide high quality services to young children with high-intensity needs and their families.

• Providing effective well-being support, skills, and strategies to scholars before, during, and after the project to support retention in the program, project, and profession.

Many opportunities for both preservice and in-service teachers will be supported by Project BICYCLES. For example, resources and support will be individualized based on scholars’ cultural, academic, and social emotional needs, with the goal of supporting scholars to complete the program. Individualized support may include tuition, housing, childcare, and travel stipends, access to textbooks and technology, and financial support for program-associated fees. Mixed-reality classrooms and simulated students will be used in project courses to provide preservice teachers authentic opportunities for pedagogical practice within a safe environment. Professional development needs will be identified with opportunities for preservice students and in-service teachers to interact and learn together. Existing partnerships with local school districts serving high-needs communities will be expanded through the development of teacher residency programs.

“Teacher residency programs have been shown to reduce teacher attrition, increase teacher retention, and reduce overall school district costs,” said Rooks-Ellis. “We are excited to work with our local districts on this new initiative.”

Additionally, teacher well-being will be emphasized. Rooks-Ellis and Miller said, “We have three goals centered on work/school-life balance: to increase preservice and in-service educators’ knowledge of evidence informed wellbeing practice, to provide a preventative approach to support overall quality of preservice mentorship, and to promote increased retention of educators in the field. Through this work, we intend to change the narrative of teacher well-being.”

For more information, contact Rooks-Ellis at