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Partnership speeds speech-language interventions

Mar. 19, 2020, 8:27 AM


by Kelsey Herbers

Preschoolers in the Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) district are more quickly being identified as having a communication disability thanks to a new partnership between the district and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

The partnership places graduate students pursuing a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology inside of schools to provide speech-language screenings for children whose caregivers have concerns about their development.

Prior to the partnership, all preschoolers whose caregivers had speech, language and/or developmental concerns received a full, individual evaluation from one of the district’s preschool assessment teams, which handle referrals across the district’s population of more than 86,000 students. Due to a high volume of referrals, families waited a longer-than-optimal time between their initial contact with the district and the child’s evaluation.

Now, families can receive a screening by a graduate student in Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences within three weeks of initial contact with the district during the school year.

Graduate students work in pairs to select screening procedures based on the caregivers’ concerns, their clinical expertise and recommendations from the program’s preceptors.

C. Melanie Schuele, PhD, CCC-SLP

“This project provides an invaluable opportunity for our graduate students to have a broader understanding of the services provided to children with disabilities in schools. It’s an example of a win-win collaboration that has grown out of our partnership with the district, established as part of our training grants from the U.S. Department of Education. It is remarkable to see students’ growth across the semester in working with children and in communicating with families,” said C. Melanie Schuele, PhD, CCC-SLP, associate professor of Hearing and Speech Sciences at VUMC, who oversees the program along with Colleen Thomas, MS, CCC-SLP, exceptional education coordinator for MNPS.

Each screening leads to a recommendation, which may include a referral for a full evaluation, a recommendation for rescreen in three to five months or a determination that no follow-up is necessary.

Since its implementation, the screening process has alleviated pressure on the district by reducing the number of full evaluations needed to roughly 10 per week instead of 15-20.

“The Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences is fortunate to have many excellent graduate students who are eager to gain new professional experiences. Partnering with MNPS to provide speech-language screenings for children at risk of having communication disorders is one way of giving back to our Nashville community and expanding our students’ education at the same time,” said Anne Marie Tharpe, PhD, chair of the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences and associate director of the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center.

In addition to benefiting local schools, the program provides graduate students with firsthand experience with the referral process and teaches them effective communication with families of different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Students also have peer-to-peer teaching and leadership opportunities by training new students on the screening process.

“Throughout this semester, I have learned how to interview parents, elicit specific behaviors from a child, come to a conclusion about what a child’s next steps need to be and how to explain those next steps to parents,” said Emma Carlson, a graduate student in Hearing and Speech Sciences who has participated in the MNPS screenings.

“This placement has given me invaluable experience and knowledge that has made me a stronger clinician.”

The preschool screenings are available to all families in the district.

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