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Reaching those with special needs

Published: 04/17/2014

Video by: Phillip Coxwell

Auburn University serves more than 800 teachers and upward of 25,000 K-12 students in an eight-county region through the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative. The AMSTI program is the Alabama Department of Education’s state-funded, K-12 education program, designed to initiate and sustain improved statewide mathematics and science teaching and learning.

Students in participating AMSTI schools are taught math and science using a hands-on, inquiry-based approach through the implementation of learning modules in the classroom. The modules contain all of the necessary equipment needed to carry out science experiments and mathematics activities. 

In addition to reaching traditional K-12 students, the AMSTI site at Auburn University serves students with special needs.

“In particular we have a group of special needs students who have to earn service hours,” said Elizabeth Hickman, director of the AMSTI-Auburn University site, “so they come to the AMSTI site once per week for an hour or so, and they help us by counting out items that go into kits, like straws or paperclips or rubber bands. Sometimes they are counting, other times they are weighing, and they package the items into Ziploc® bags that go into the kits that end up in the classroom.”

According to Cody Keene, special educator at Auburn High School, securing volunteer learning opportunities for students with special needs can be a challenge.

“It’s very significant that AMSTI offers us this opportunity because sometimes it can be difficult to find work environments where they welcome our students to come in,” said Keene. “This type of opportunity helps our students learn more independence and more autonomous behavior, so, hopefully, they can live as independently as possible in the future. On a personal level, I enjoy this aspect of the job because we are allowed to watch the kids grow as individuals and as a group – they are learning skills and independence, and that’s a positive all the way around for everyone.”

AMSTI-Auburn University assistant materials manager, Kermit Davis, echoed Keene’s opinion of the program. “This program is important to me, and I think for the state of Alabama, because we are not just educating the traditional K-12 student. We are taking education much further because we are giving students like these in the special needs program the ability to gain experience that will help them to be productive in the work force and good solid citizens.”

The AMSTI site at Auburn University recently moved to a new facility, and the added square footage that is now available is part of the reason the special needs students are able to volunteer on a weekly basis.

“In July we were given the opportunity to move into a 43,500 square-foot facility. It has 33,000 square-feet of warehouse space, so we now have plenty of room to store all of the kits after they are packed, as well as offer opportunities to the community, such as the special needs program,” said Hickman.

The AMSTI-Auburn University site will host an open house on April 29 so the community can have an opportunity to learn more about the advantages AMSTI offers all K-12 students. The event will feature tours of the new space, which includes three meeting rooms that are available for Auburn University and community use, as well as demonstrations of the mathematics and science learning modules.

The open house will take place on Tuesday, April 29, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the new AMSTI-Auburn University site located at 1900 Cunningham Drive in Opelika. Light refreshments will be served, and anyone with an interest in K-12 education is invited to attend. For more information, contact Elizabeth Hickman at (334) 750-9525 or by email at, or visit the website at

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