Speech-Language-Hearing Center Lifts Barriers to Learning at the Nativity School in Worcester

December 22, 2020
By: Kristen O'Reilly

Experts from Worcester State are identifying and treating speech and language issues in students attending the Nativity School in Worcester, helping to solve problems that could act as barriers to learning. The program, made possible by a grant from DCU, also allows Speech Language Pathology (SLP) graduate students to gain valuable experience in a school setting.

The Nativity School is a tuition-free, private school for underserved boys in grades five through eight that is supported through corporate and foundation grants and other private fundraising.

Ann Veneziano-Korzec, director of the Speech-Language-Hearing Center, says the DCU grant improves accessibility and the quality of the services the center offers.

“This grant allows us to pay a certified speech-language pathologist to go into the school, with one of our graduate students, and screen, evaluate, and treat them there,” says Veneziano-Korzec. “That allows them to be in the classroom, interacting with the teachers and the students, so they can pick up on issues that might not be flagged in the screening.”

This is the only paid practicum available to SLP graduate students, who must accrue 400 hours of experience to complete their degree. The placement is on hold at the moment due to the pandemic, although that may change for the upcoming spring semester.

Patricia Haddad ’78, M.S. ’86, a certified speech-language pathologist who worked in the Worcester Public Schools for 34 years, is the part-time clinical instructor who works with the Nativity School. She says being able to see students in their learning environment is crucial to diagnosing problems and offering solutions, to both students and teachers.

“Rather than having the boys transported to the clinic on campus, this grant allows us to go to them, right there in the school setting. We have established a wonderful relationship with the administrators, teachers, and students,” she says.

All students are screened for speech and language skills. The screening test helps identify students who need to be further evaluated in the areas of word meanings and vocabulary, word and sentence structure, the rules of oral language used in responding to and conveying messages, and the recall and retrieval of spoken language.

“During the screening, we also have the opportunity to identify students who might have an articulation disorder and/or a fluency disorder, such as stuttering,” she says. They have identified a few students already and have recommended further evaluation and treatment, which would not have happened without the program.

“We ask the teachers if they have any concerns about their students. We gather important information from observing in the classrooms to determine what the language demands are for the students to be successful,” says Haddad. “We also provide classroom suggestions and recommendations such as directions and providing visual support, giving adequate time for the student to process information and form their answer, and allowing frequent comprehension checks when teaching new information.

For children who stutter, we recommend allowing the student to complete his thoughts without interrupting, maintain natural eye contact, and use a slow and relaxed rate of speech.”

The teachers welcome this feedback, she adds.

“Most students pass the screening, but even with students who pass, we encourage self advocacy,” she says, including asking the teacher to repeat and clarify information that they have difficulty understanding. “The students at Nativity School are completely invested through dedication and motivation to learn.”

In addition to being a rare paid opportunity, the practicum is also unusual in that it is in a school setting, where many SLP graduate students intend to work. The first graduate student to participate was Lauren Peduto, M.S., CF-SLP, who is now working as a speech-language pathologist at a private practice in Beverly, Mass.

“The best part of this experience was getting to know the students and learning about their academic interests and hobbies,” Peduto says. “My time at Nativity allowed me to gain experience in a school setting as a student clinician. I feel very fortunate that I was selected for this unique opportunity.”

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