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Exceptional teaching for our youngest learners

As a pre-kindergarten exceptional children’s teacher, Shahlaa Abugroun (’21 M.Ed.) knows how vitally important her work is. 

“Sadly, there are not many special educators out there,” she said. “And few teachers know how to support children with disabilities in a classroom setting.” 

Whether preparing lesson plans, leading individualized educational plan meetings, or coordinating services with other school personnel, Abugroun strives to provide the best care and support for all of her students. 

Abugroun, who graduated from the UNC School of Education’s Master of Education for Experienced Teachers in Early Childhood Intervention and Family Support (ECIFS) program in 2021 and now works in Durham Public Schools, is a passionate educator focused on helping many of the most vulnerable students and their families.

Her career creating impact in the lives of some of Durham’s youngest learners almost didn’t happen. 

Abugroun had earned an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering. When she married and started a family, she resolved to spend as much time as possible with her children. She decided a career in biomedical engineering wouldn’t enable the family time she sought. 

She switched gears and began pursuing a career in teaching. What began as a means of spending time with and being closer to her children in school has become Abugroun’s passion. 

Abugroun’s discovery of that passion began with curiosity and drive. She earned a certificate in early childhood education at Durham Technical Community College.  

She didn’t stop there. Abugroun gained teaching experience at Head Start and other early childcare centers. 

When a friend recommended the ECIFS program at Carolina, Abugroun applied, was accepted, and said she finally felt like she was in the right place.   

The School’s hyflex, part-time ECIFS program combines face-to-face and online class sessions or fully remote sessions with synchronous meetings in the late afternoon. It is designed to be completed over two years by early childhood educators working full-time. 

For ECIFS students who are already licensed, after completion of the program they qualify for North Carolina Birth-Kindergarten Advanced/M-level licensure. If they hold current licensure in another area (e.g., Elementary Education, Special Education, Family and Consumer Science), they may receive a Birth-Kindergarten Add-On Licensure upon program completion. This may be done in conjunction with an M.Ed. degree or as add-on licensure only. 

“The ECIFS program is such a good program because the professors are supportive in helping you reach your goals,” said Abugroun, who graduated from the program in 2021. “I could still teach full-time while furthering my education, which isn’t something that any program provides.”   

In Durham Public Schools, Abugroun said she has been able to further her passion for teaching and to use the skills she gained in the ECIFS program.  

“I have been able to cultivate the tools necessary to support my students and their families,” she said. “I am a more confident and effective communicator, which helps my students get the care and support they need. 

“It is vital for every educator to learn how to cultivate an effective learning environment for everyone, she said. If a student wants to achieve a goal, they should be able to do it.”    

Abugroun hopes to use the knowledge gained in the ECIFS program and her experiences in the field to one day earn a Ph.D., conducting research that ultimately provides strategies and tools to benefit her students and families and the greater disability community in their everyday lives.   

“If you love your job as a teacher, never stop learning because there is always more to learn,” she said. “All the tools, workshops, and knowledge will help your students achieve their goals and advance their knowledge, as well as your own.” 

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By Brook Buchanan