A multi-media campaign addressing the ongoing challenges of special education (SPED) teacher recruitment and retention in Hawaiʻi has been launched. The “Every Student Deserves Someone Special” project specifically promotes SPED programs while helping to destigmatize special education and foster support for individuals with disabilities. It is a partnership between the University ofHawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Education (COE) Department of Special Education and the Hawaiʻi Department of Education (HIDOE).

The goal of “Every Student Deserves Someone Special” is to increase the number of students pursuing a teaching degree or certificate through the UH System. COE SPED Recruitment Specialist and Campaign Lead Janet Kim said, “This campaign allows for us to change the narrative around special education and students with disabilities in Hawaiʻi. As a former special education teacher, myself, I feel like this is our opportunity to showcase the real passion and beauty of what we do and who we serve.”

The key components of the campaign, which were produced by Kai Media, are radio commercials, social media videos, and various informational videos that feature inspirational stories and testimonials from SPED teachers, teacher-candidates, COE alumni, students, administrators and parents.

The website also highlights a group of inaugural SPEDucator Project fellows, called SPEDucators. Made up of 20 HIDOE special education teachers selected for their passion, ingenuity and excellence in their field, the fellows have been convening twice a month since November 2020.

“There’s no script, no one being told what to say and what not to say,” explained Kim. “The goal is to shed light on the realities of what truly makes special education special. We’re able to do this because of these 20 incredible SPEDucators who represent the wide scope and breadth of what special education looks like across Hawaiʻi. Our hope is that, through this work, we will find more individuals who are passionate and committed to making a real difference in the lives of students with disabilities.”

There are SPED credentialing options available at three UH campuses—UH Mānoa, UH West Oʻahu and Leeward Community College.

This effort is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Enhancing Student Success (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.