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PSU students to bolster Littleton special ed teachers

Josie Albertson-Grove

Special education teachers in Littleton will get a little extra help from Plymouth State students next school year — and the graduate students selected for the program will get a little extra help, too.

Starting next fall, four Plymouth State University students will start working alongside experienced special education teachers in Littleton schools as part of a “teacher residency” for graduate students in the School of Education.

The program comes as students and teachers make up for lost time over the last two pandemic-disrupted years — a particular challenge for students who receive special services that may have been hard to deliver remotely.

At the same time, schools are staring down a potential exodus of teachers in the next few years, which threatens to compound the years-long shortage of special education teachers in New Hampshire.

Schools in rural areas already know these pressures.

“Our district’s rural location creates challenges in hiring staff, but also in attracting student teachers and graduate-level interns for specialty areas such as special education,” said Littleton School Superintendent William Hart in a statement.

The teacher residency will accept between four and six students in Plymouth State’s one-year master’s program in education, providing the students with apartments and a living stipend. They will spend four days each week in Littleton classrooms, with one day devoted to their own coursework.

Housing has been a barrier for hiring in New Hampshire, especially for lower-paying jobs in rural areas with little affordable housing. Grafton County had a 1.1% vacancy rate last year, according to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, and the median cost for a studio apartment in 2020 was almost $700 in Grafton County.

The teacher residency will cover students’ housing. The students will get to use apartments in a new development on the former Hitchiner Manufacturing campus, within walking distance of Littleton’s schools.

“This program is unique in that it will provide students housing right here in our community, as well as a monthly stipend and it will cover their tuition,” Hart said in a statement.

“I am not aware of any other program in the state like this, and I believe it can be a model for other rural districts,” Hart said.

The program is paid for in part by federal funds that were part of the American Rescue Plan, the 2021 COVID relief and economic stimulus bill signed into law just over a year ago.

Without the funding, Hart said in an interview, he’s not sure the program would have gotten off the ground. The idea of spending almost $270,000 on a program that does not exist anywhere else in New Hampshire might have been a tough sell at town meeting, he said.

“It’s almost $270,000 a year, and that might be something that a community might be like, ‘Sounds like a good idea but that’s a big expenditure.’”