A Speciality in Helping

Program Director for Graduate SPED Program Finds Her Strength

Kat D. Alves knows that Longwood’s SPED program is truly something special. Alves, who is an assistant professor of Special Education in addition to her role as program director, says that connecting with students in their undergraduate and graduate classes has been a highlight of her time at Longwood. Kat Alves

“I felt drawn to the program at Longwood and the faculty here, and it seemed like a great place to work,” Alves says. “I love that I teach students in several classes during their undergraduate years and then for several graduate classes. I really get a chance to know them.”

Establishing meaningful relationships with her students is what powers Alves, a busy mom of two young children, through her days.

“Building relationships with the students in the program and talking to prospective students about their future plans and how our program might fit their needs is the most rewarding part of what I do,” Alves says. 

With the arrival of COVID-19, the program demonstrated its agility with a quick shift to virtual classes. For most students, according to Alves, this pivot has been for the best.

“Many of our students have teaching jobs in other areas and commute in for classes,” Alves says. “Zoom has reduced that driving time and allowed students to focus on their studies and teaching residency.”

The surprising flexibility that the new online classwork has provided, Alves notes, goes along with the flexibility of the SPED graduate degree itself. Many people don’t realize that program graduates are not required to become SPED teachers.  

“Many of the students in our program actually want to teach elementary school as a general education teacher, or they want to teach middle or high school as a content-specific teacher,” Alves says. “However, they know they will have students with disabilities in their classes, and they want to know the best ways to help them thrive.”

Alves always knew that she wanted to work with kids. While volunteering with therapeutic horseback riding programs during college, she discovered that she enjoyed working with students with disabilities. This insight led to her current role.  

“I graduated from the University of Virginia. I’m a ‘Triple Hoo’, a three-time UVA alum, and wanted to find a local job that allowed me to stay in the area. I knew that I wanted to be at a teaching-focused university. I also knew that Longwood was known for having a great teacher education program. I felt drawn to the program at Longwood and the faculty here. It seemed like a great place to work,” says Alves. 

At the end of the day, Alves is proud to be at the helm of a program that stands out from competitors — and not just because of its residency program. She believes it’s due to the willingness of the faculty, and most importantly, the students, to help one another grow and learn. 

“Our students get full-time teaching jobs during their graduate year and take Saturday classes,” Alves says. “We think of our program as a supported first year of teaching, where you get support from your professors and your classmates rather than just being turned out on your own. We help our students, but they also help each other.”