Program trains speech-language teachers to aid immigrant children

University Park, Pa. -- Identifying and treating communication disorders in immigrant children is the focus of MOSAIC (Multiplying Opportunities for Services and Access for Immigrant Children), which will train future speech-language pathologists and other professionals to work with immigrant children who are learning to speak English as a second language (ESL).

The program, funded by a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, will provide specialized training to 22 graduate students in Penn State's Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders over the next four years.

MOSAIC addresses the inadequate training of speech-language pathologists to diagnose communication disorders in English-language learners. Research performed in the department confirmed that more than 30 percent of practicing professionals have had no course work or field experiences with multilingual children.

"According to the 2000 U.S. Census report, one in every five children in the United States is an immigrant child and that number is increasing quickly, especially in rural areas," says Gordon Blood, head of the department of communication sciences and disorders, who oversees MOSAIC with Ingrid Blood, professor of communication sciences and disorders. "Several studies have confirmed that learning or enhancing English-language skills is the most critical educational hurdle most immigrant children confront. Immigrant children need to learn English to succeed in the United States and we want them to do this while still maintaining ties to their cultural heritage."

He says that a lack of experience with English-language learners could lead to inaccurate diagnoses of communication disorders. For example, anyone learning a second language may pause or stumble on their words while attempting to think of what to say in the new language, but this does not mean they have a stuttering disorder.

Through MOSAIC, the department is targeting graduate students who plan to work in rural states with high numbers of children learning English as a second language, such as Mississippi, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. The first students will begin their training in fall 2009. The department designed seven new graduate-level courses to address issues including intake procedures, ESL students with intellectual disabilities, and school leadership and advocacy for ESL students. The department will also offer online seminars, child and family practica, capstone research experiences and assistance with field placements in rural or impoverished areas.

MOSAIC will be a partnership among the education departments of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and West Virginia; national associations for oral and written language issues; literacy institutes; program leaders; parents and children from immigrant circumstances who are ESL learners; bilingual speech-language pathologists, and child advocates.

"Some of the 'gateway' immigration states, such as California and New York, are better equipped than other states to properly assess, diagnose and treat communication disorders in immigrant children," says Gordon Blood. "This may be because they've been working with immigrants for a longer amount of time than rural states. However, now that rural states are seeing more immigration, we need to improve our education and diagnosis practices."

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Last Updated April 05, 2010