Service-learning partnership with Head Start benefits children and graduate students

Shannon Magsam

Communication science and disorders graduate students Addison Rogers (left) and Maddox McIntire assess the language, motor and lexical skills of a child attending Head Start in Fayetteville.

For more than five years, students graduating from the Communication Sciences and Disorders program have partnered with local Head Start Centers to provide essential services to children in Washington County.

The partnership comes through a service-learning course led by Lisa Bowers, associate professor and graduate program coordinator at CDIS. Graduate students training to become speech-language pathologists assess the language, motor and vocabulary skills of preschoolers who attend local Head Start centers.

Service-learning courses align academic courses with learning experiences that benefit the community. “This course provides significant benefits to our U of A graduate students and to the children, teachers and administrators of our Head Start Community Centers,” Bowers said. “This partnership has strengthened the bonds between groups within the community, the university and future speech-language pathologists.”

Graduate students gain valuable experience working with young children and observing classrooms in various centers across Washington County. And the centers can carry out the screenings in a timely manner.

Lynn Troutner, disability services coordinator for EOA Children’s Services, said students graduating from the program have been instrumental in helping centers meet federal 45-day screening requirements. “Their level of professionalism has been stellar, even when meeting children who are having difficulty in new situations with unfamiliar adults,” she said. “Head Start is truly grateful, beyond my spoken words, for Lisa’s coordination of this annual experience.”

Bowers said the partnership has been transformative for his graduate students. “It has been such a positive experience for our graduating students as they interact with educators and children from diverse backgrounds in our community,” she said. “They develop an understanding of how to engage with children from the age of two to assess their conceptual, linguistic, motor and social development. It is a highlight for me every year to read their personal reflections so that each student describes how they grew personally, academically and professionally from this experience.”

Student Mallory Carr said she was grateful for the incredible opportunity. “The best way to understand and grow as a future clinician is to engage with your surrounding community and serve it when needed,” she said. “Academically, this experience has really enhanced my skills and knowledge of early childhood development and the sequence in which we see children grow up.”

Student Emily Ortiz said the professional and personal lessons deepened her knowledge. “I learned so many things that I can apply professionally to better serve my future clients,” she said. “I’ve learned to be patient with clients and that it’s okay if things don’t go as planned. It’s my job to be flexible and look for signs that a child may have need a break for a little while or may not be in a good mood right now.” Ortiz said his time at Head Start Centers also reinforced the importance of his role. “Most importantly, I learned that language and literacy are crucial and need to be tested early to ensure the child has a strong foundation for the future,” she said.

The Service Learning Initiative facilitates strategic community partnerships and provides instructional support for new faculty teaching service learning courses, including course design. Members of this committee include representatives from each college on campus, the Honors College, the Center for Community Engagement, Graduate School and International Education, the School of Law, University Libraries, and the Wally Cordes Teaching and Faculty Support Center, which is instrumental in connecting faculty and staff to these various campus organizations.

For more information on service-learning offerings and potential partnerships, contact Carrie Nelms ([email protected]), Jennie Popp ([email protected]), Shalini Rana ([email protected]), or visit the service-learning website. The Communication Sciences and Disorders program is in the College of Education and Health Professions.