Little Rock native Kim Phelan jumped at the opportunity to return to higher education after learning about the Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) in Educational Leadership with an emphasis in Special Education online degree program at Arkansas State University.
“I didn’t know something like this existed,” Phelan said. “In 2015, an A-State representative named Susan Burdick Bariola spoke at the school where I was working and told us about the program. I had put off going back to school. My biggest concern was that I needed to be able to work full time and have that flexibility. The online format worked out very well.”
So well that Phelan, a single mother, enrolled in the online Master of Science in Early Childhood Services program at A-State a little more than one year after graduating with the Ed.S. degree in May 2017. Phelan is an early childhood speech therapist at Wilbur D. Mills Education Co-Op in Beebe, Arkansas.
“The Ed.S. program was a very positive experience,” she said. “I work with early childhood at my job, so I thought that the master’s degree would also be helpful. I definitely have a good pathway for the future.”
The flexibility of the fully online format allows Phelan to map out her schedule and balance school, work and time with her daughter, Presley (9).
“I am able to plan ahead early in the week,” Phelan said. “The professors give us the syllabus ahead of time so we know what to expect. The modules are released at the beginning of the week, so we know what to read in advance. I felt like the program was a perfect fit for me. Having that flexibility was great.”
Phelan discovered which direction she wanted to take her career as the result of an unfortunate incident.
“I had a family member who was in an accident and went through a therapy process,” she said. “Once I saw the results of what they did working with the family, I was interested. I started working in the school setting and realized I like working with kids.”
Phelan never looked back. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in speech pathology from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2002, she added a master’s degree in the same major at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences two years later.
Phelan, who also has English as a Second Language certification from Henderson State University, is the first person in her immediate family to earn a college degree. She is thrilled to continue her pursuit of knowledge as a Red Wolf.
“I had always heard great things about A-State,” Phelan said. “It’s a very good university. Academically, they have a great graduation rate. They have great professors. Once I contacted A-State, they were so helpful with giving me the resources I needed to send in my transcripts and get started.”
The online Ed.S. in Educational Leadership with an emphasis in Special Education curriculum provided Phelan with valuable insight into the profession she loves. She especially enjoyed ELAD 6423: Special Education Law and the final course of the program, ELCI 6493: Curriculum Internship.
“We had to look at everything we had worked on and put it into the live context in that last semester,” she said. “It was eye-opening to know how much I learned. I could apply a lot of it to my job. My biggest takeaway from the program was seeing the value of not putting a student with a disability into a group. Every student should be individualized because they all have different needs.”
Covering the Bases
After Phelan completed the post-graduate program, she earned Praxis Certification from the Arkansas Department of Education to complete all of the certifications available for her job. She is eyeing a possible career transition even as she earns another master’s degree.
“I would like to look at administration and being in a director of special education position,” she said. “I also hope to move from the level I’m at to the district level.”
Phelan believes the strength of the online Ed.S. in Educational Leadership in Special Education program lies in its capacity to prepare future educators to fulfill an array of needs.
“Anybody considering this program should go for it,” she said. “It’s important to study the options and see what area of specialty they want to go into. We need that because there’s a need for more specialists in the school settings for kids. It’s definitely worthwhile.”
Graduation day was especially meaningful for Phelan because her daughter saw the reward for all of the hard work she put into the program.
“Presley wasn’t born when I went through my undergraduate and graduate school graduations,” she said. “I wasn’t going to walk in the ceremony for the Ed.S., but then I thought, ‘This is such a cool moment for her to see.’
“She was so excited to see her mom complete it. I feel very blessed and have so much gratitude for this program. It is going to open so many doors in my career. I am happy to have this degree and know there are a lot of possibilities for her.”
Hopefully, those possibilities for Presley will include jumping at higher education opportunities, too.
Learn more about the A-State online Ed.S. in Educational Leadership, Special Education program.