News Release

$1.2 million grant boosts special education credential program at SF State

US Department of Education funding will go toward student tuition stipends, recruitment and technology and curriculum upgrades

Grant and Award Announcement

San Francisco State University

Amber Friesen, San Francisco State University

image: This is SF State assistant professor of special education Amber Friesen. view more 

Credit: SF State

A grant from the U.S. Department of Education will aid SF State's efforts to prepare students for employment as early childhood special educators and help fill a critical need for such teachers.

The five-year, $1.2 million grant will benefit SF State's Careers and Inclusive Resources Related to Children's Leaning in the Early Years (CIRCLE) program, a post-baccalaureate credential program in early childhood special education (ECSE). The program is designed to train teachers to provide professional and culturally relevant services to young children with disabilities and their families.

The grant will allow the program to provide tuition stipends to students and recruit additional students, increasing the number of highly trained early childhood special educators serving at school districts, early intervention programs and nonprofits in the Bay Area and beyond.

"Most of our students are extremely dedicated but are also working full time or have their own families," said Amber Friesen, assistant professor of special education and project director for the CIRCLE program. "We're thrilled that this grant will allow us to support them financially as well as grow our program to better serve children and families in the Bay Area."

Seventy percent of the grant money will go toward student tuition stipends, Friesen said. The remainder will fund curriculum improvements, technology upgrades, recruitment, and support for the program's many community partners. Those partners include several Bay Area school districts, nonprofits and early intervention programs that work with young children with special needs and their families.

Early childhood special education in the state of California includes children from birth to age five. SF State's ECSE program provides students a credential to work with this population. The program includes two semesters of teaching experience, one with children age three and younger and one with children ages three through and five.

"Nationally, there's a pervasive shortage of special education teachers, and a lot of that is due to the high demands of the position and the special knowledge that is required," Friesen said. "While a lot of grant initiatives have been cut by the federal government, this one was not, in part because of that need."

ECSE students at SF State are taught to be able to serve young children and families of all cultures and backgrounds, she added.

"We want to ensure that our student population reflects the diversity of the Bay Area, and we're dedicated to preparing early childhood special educators to work with diverse families in order to address the needs of our region," Friesen said.

The grant was obtained with the help of Professor of Special Education Marci Hanson, who co-directs the CIRCLE program, and Associate Professor of Special Education Summer Hsia, who will serve as the program's field placement coordinator, Friesen said. Many of the program's community partners also aided efforts to obtain the funding through letters of support, she added.

Funding through the grant begins in January and continues through 2018. To learn more about SF State's special education programs, visit


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