The Jason Foundation Gives New Life to Special Education
Master's Degree Program

GW magazine - The George Washington Summer 2001

Tragedies affect individuals and families in so many different ways. In the case of Greg and Fran Rooker, the loss of their son has profoundly altered their lives both personally and professionally. It is also greatly altering the special education program in The George Washington University's Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

Through their family foundation, The Jason Foundation, which is named after their son, the Rookers have generously committed to giving $340,000 in student scholarships to help re-establish a formerly federally funded master's degree program in special education. The program, believed to be the first of its kind in the country, focuses on preparing educators to work with students who have acquired brain injuries.

At the age of 10, Jason Rooker suffered profound anoxic brain injury as a result of a tragic backyard accident. As they were trying to cope with the situation and learn more about what they were facing, the Rookers discovered a real lack of support services for people with acquired brain injuries and their families. Their response was to create The Jason Foundation to help fill that void.

"Like other families, we have journeyed - not without struggle - through this unexpected life change," Fran Rooker says. "We have chosen to work toward promoting public awareness."

Fran Rooker met special education professor Janis Ruoff last year at a conference sponsored by a brain injury services organization, and a partnership was born. "I don't believe in accidents," Mrs. Rooker says. "I just didn't happen to meet her. I didn't just happen to talk about the program at GW."

After learning about the program and how it helped placed trained people in centers and schools, she knew their relationship with GW was meant to be. "We felt committed to helping the program continue."

"Only eight percent of the nation's universities have any coursework at all in brain injury, according to a recent study, and there are no other programs that offer a complete degree in this field," says Professor Ruoff, who is spearheading the program and who also has had a child suffer from an acquired brain injury. "Besides developing our program further, we will be working with national organizations to increase professional preparation, development of standards, and research in the area of education for students with brain injuries. Hopefully we can make GW a hub for this study."

"Sometimes good things come from bad things," adds Greg Rooker, a third generation Virginia newspaperman. He retired last year after 35 years of newspaper management to take a more active and involved role in The Jason Foundation.

"We are so pleased this has all come together," says Mrs. Rooker, who is the president of the Foundation. "We are thrilled that the program will have new life."

Greg & Fran Rooker (third and fourth from the left), through
the Jason Foundation, are helping the Special Education
department to train professionals to work with children
who have acquired brain injuries and their families.


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