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Matthew Anderson Solidifies Leadership Role Through Master’s in Special Education Program

USM MSSpecialEd Student Matthew Anderson
Matthew Anderson with his wife and children.

A passion for helping at-risk children had Matthew Anderson jumping at the opportunity to become the director of education at a therapeutic school for students with emotional and social disabilities.

“Having just my bachelor’s degree was no longer sufficient,” he said. “I am supervising a staff and writing all of the individual education plans for our students. One of the caveats of taking the position was that I would work toward obtaining a master’s degree.”

So, Anderson enrolled in the Master of Science in Special Education with a Concentration in Effective Instruction and Assessment for Students with Suspected and Identified Disabilities online program at the University of Southern Maine.

“I was looking for an accelerated program to expedite the process,” he said. “USM offered a great opportunity for that with all of the classes only seven weeks long. I am taking a full course load of two classes per semester, which allows me to finish by December 2020.”

Anderson was dean of operations at Bay Cove Academy in Middleboro, Massachusetts, before taking on his current role less than a year ago. He and his wife, Kim, have two children, Matthew (7) and Emma (3).

“I had to have a deviation from the norm in order to return to college,” he said. “Learning in a classroom would not fit my schedule at this point. My mother, Julie, always told me I needed to go back to school.

“She is a social worker who never went back, which is one of her greatest regrets. I am the second one in my family to go back and acquire my master’s degree. It’s a pretty big deal.”

Right Time, Right Place

Anderson grew up in the South Shore region of Massachusetts and wanted to become an aviator when he was younger. Instead, he fell into a career in education.

“When I was getting my bachelor’s degree, I knew teachers got the summers off, so I was drawn to that. But I quickly learned that teachers are much more than just educators. They are facilitators of social and emotional well-being,” he said.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history and secondary education from Salve Regina University in 2008, Anderson struggled to find work.

“I was working in maintenance out of college because I couldn’t find a job as a history teacher anywhere,” he said. “I happened to be working on a project in Brockton, Massachusetts, and the psychiatrist of the program there said they needed a teacher.

“Luckily for me, I used to keep my briefcase behind the seat of my truck. I was the founding teacher at a short-term adolescent detoxification center. After six years of teaching, I took a hiatus from education to run a group home for adolescents in the care of DCF [Department of Children and Families] who were outplaced from their homes.”

Anderson’s passion drew him back to the education field and to the Justice Resource Institute, which runs Bay Cove Academy. He started a hybrid MBA program at Bridgewater State University in 2006, but the format did not work out with his schedule.

“Right now, I have reached a pretty high apex without the degree,” he said. “But I want to be able to stabilize the program I am with, which is a new acquisition for the company. I want to build up the educational and transitional programming of this school and work in the human service industry.”

Mass Appeal

Anderson has benefited greatly from the information he has learned in the online MS in Special Education program. So far, SED 699: Special Education Research Capstone is his favorite course. It gave students the opportunity to dive into teaching theories, discover what they wanted to teach, do research for their capstones and plan their writing.

Dr. Walter Kimball gave me the chance to expand on something I am passionate about: teaching students who are at-risk or placed in alternative education settings and don’t follow that traditional educational path,” said Anderson.

He was able to study the topic he loved.

“I did my research on the effects of trauma-informed care on students in alternative education placements,” he said. “In terms of the capstone, Dr. Kimball assisted me in getting research done, finding the correct sources and making sense of all of the numbers.”

All of the coursework has been applicable to Anderson’s duties as director of education, which has made the return to college and hard work well worth the effort.

“I use what I am learning in the program every day,” he said. “A lot of the things we talk about, like curriculum-based measures, I hadn’t always put into practice. [These measures included] finding a grade equivalent, expanding on it, keeping the data, seeing the progression and finding areas of targeted intervention for students.”

He has even implemented the process in his school. It involves performing diagnostic assessments on students, reviewing the results and identifying potential areas for development. Taking these steps enables Anderson and his staff to provide the best targeted instruction possible.

When he completes the online program, Anderson hopes to walk the graduation stage at an in-person commencement ceremony. For now, he is enjoying the process of earning a master’s degree in an accelerated format and having time to spend with his family.

“The time management component of the online program is huge,” he said. “The classes are fast, so you’re able to utilize the professor and the information that they give you while keeping on top of things and setting your own deadlines. I got more than I hoped to get out of it.”

Learn more about USM’s MS in Special Education with a Concentration in Effective Instruction and Assessment for Students with Suspected and Identified Disabilities online program.

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