Published on July 23, 2019 by Sara Roman  
Serving Children with Special Needs in Lebanon

It is estimated that over 1.5 million Syrian refugees and 450,000 displaced Palestinians have fled their homelands to seek shelter in Lebanon, causing refugee children to be absorbed into schools across the country. Over the past 14 years, Orlean Beeson School of Education faculty have worked to build a capacity of teachers in these schools to serve children with special needs.

In recent years, Samford students have continued to express an interest in being a part of this exceptional work. This fall, the education school will begin preparing a team of Samford students, led by faculty and staff, to journey to Beirut, Lebanon and invest their gifts and talents into this Kingdom work. 

“The Samford University mission charges us to build a community that fosters academic, career and ethical competency while encouraging social and civic responsibility and service to others,” said David Finn, professor of special education and project facilitator. “We believe that this international experience provides a unique opportunity for our teacher education candidates to combine their faith and vocation.” 

The cadre will begin their enculturation through a series of seminars that focus on the rich spiritual and cultural aspects of Lebanon. Additionally, using findings from a needs assessment administered and interpreted by Lebanese educational personnel, the team will develop a curriculum to deliver a variety of activities, including professional development for teachers, a mini-camp for children with special needs and an interactive workshop for their families. 

The mini-camp will demonstrate a variety of sports and arts-related activities to build self-confidence and team-building competencies while the family interactive workshop will be provided to enable caregivers by exploring enhanced skills in managing the needs of their children at home. All curriculum will be developed by Samford education candidates.

“A special education teacher must be able to identify the strengths and needs of the students they teach. The ability to meet a student at their level and take them to the level of their peers is the goal. This ability is greatly needed in the refugee population,” said Mandy Hilsmier, professor of special education. “Our teacher education candidates will be challenged to provide specific assistance to refugee students who are battling a lack of instruction, language barriers and missed opportunities to fully develop academically.”

During their time in the teacher preparation program, teacher education candidates complete more than 1,000 clinical hours within rural, urban and suburban school systems. While these experiences are diverse, faculty believe entering an international environment like Lebanon will develop the candidates both academically and spiritually.

“Educational experiences like this prepare our students to utilize teaching skills that allow them to communicate with people who are different from them,” said Finn. “It will stretch them, and it will give them the opportunity to teach in a way that shares the gospel and shows the love of Christ within a community that needs compassion.”

Beyond the on-site experience, teacher education candidates and faculty will offer their availability to remain in contact with the Lebanese teachers to provide help virtually via email, Skype and Facebook responding to concerns, strategies, disability issues, and curricular ideas.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.