New Program Prepares Students to Work with Immigrant Children in Rural Areas

August 18, 2009

Identifying and treating communication disorders in immigrant children is the focus of a new program in Penn State’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD). The program—MOSAIC (Multiplying Opportunities for Services and Access for Immigrant Children)—will train future speech-language pathologists and other professionals to work with immigrant children who are learning to speak English as a second language. The department aims to provide specialized training to twenty-two graduate students over the next four years.

MOSAIC addresses the growing concern that many speech-language pathologists have not been adequately trained 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 involving 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 Dr. Gordon Blood, head of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, who is overseeing MOSAIC along with Dr. 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 as a second language in order to succeed in the United States, and we want them to do this while still maintaining ties to their cultural heritage.”

Blood says that a lack of experience with English-language learners could lead to inaccurate diagnoses of communication disorders. For instance, 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 on working 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 has designed seven new graduate-level courses that address issues such as intake procedures, school leadership and advocacy for English as a second language (ESL) students, and English-language learners with intellectual disabilities. 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 is intended to 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 English-language 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 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.”

MOSAIC is funded by a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

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Editors: Gordon Blood can be reached at f2x@psu.edu. For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or healthhd@psu.edu.