Photo caption: Carissa Phelps, a CSD second-year graduate student, Hope Wachholz, an undergraduate Spanish interpreter, and Arcadia Childcare Center director Jolynn Bourland work together to complete a young boy’s hearing screening. (Submitted photo)
Earlier this month, a team of Blugolds — including future speech-language pathologists and Spanish interpreters — worked together to give hearing screenings to young children in Arcadia, where more than 86% of students in the elementary school speak Spanish.
With the help of six University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire undergraduate students in the Spanish for Health Professionals program, the 13 communication sciences and disorders (CSD) graduate students screened more than 440 kindergarten through third graders at the Arcadia Elementary School.
“This was a true win-win opportunity, with our students gaining real-world skills, and the families in Arcadia gaining a valuable service,” says Heather Pederson, a UW-Eau Claire CSD clinical instructor.
Dr. Elena Casey, an assistant professor of Spanish, agrees, noting that while many of the children they screened spoke English fluently, having the Spanish interpreters there helped ease any anxieties they had about the hearing assessments.
“As I circulated among the students, I was struck by how often they would get excited at the chance to talk and have hearing screenings in Spanish even if they also spoke English fluently,” Casey says. “It quickly became clear that the presence of our Spanish interpreters improved not only the children’s understanding, but also their comfort and trust.”
Including her Spanish-speaking students in the screening project also helped to strengthen ties among the young children, their families and the school, Casey says.
For example, after a Blugold handed a young boy a sticker following his hearing assessment, he excitedly told her that the sticker — featuring a cartoon animal with headphones and the text “Ya hice la evaluación auditiva” — will help his dad understand what he’d done in school that day.
“And that’s ultimately what we want — for all children and their families to feel included in our public education and health care systems,” Casey says of working to help strengthen those connections.
Through the hearing screening project, Pederson says, UW-Eau Claire made a positive impact on a nearby community, while also helping university students grow their skills and knowledge.
“As we wrapped up our last screening, I left with a strong sense of connection to the community,” Pederson says. “The project was a great example of the Wisconsin Idea — the long tradition of education influencing people's lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom.”
Blugolds working together
UW-Eau Claire CSD screening teams, which include graduate students and clinical faculty members, regularly visit Eau Claire area schools to screen kindergartners and first-graders.
These hearing screenings are important because undiagnosed hearing loss in children can contribute to significant speech, language and learning delays if undetected. Screenings are typically done in early elementary school, but due to quarantines during the COVID-19 pandemic, many children haven't had their hearing screened during routine screening and prevention events.
So, when staff from Arcadia Elementary School asked if UW-Eau Claire would host a clinic for their K-third-grade students, Pederson agreed, seeing it as an opportunity to provide a service to the Arcadia community, but also to give Blugolds a meaningful and collaborative real-life learning experience.
“This partnership between UWEC and the Arcadia School District is invaluable to our students as it is often difficult for future speech-language pathologists to practice a specialized skill set necessary to work effectively with interpreters in real-world situations,” Pederson says. “Dr. Casey was able to coach the Spanish for Health Professions students, and the CSD faculty was able to coach the CSD graduate students to effectively communicate with students who are dual-language learners.”
Pederson and Casey brought the CSD and Spanish-language students together early in the fall semester, asking them to create a plan for the screening day and to determine their roles in it.
Their plan included producing a video to share with the children before the screening day, so they would know what to expect. In the video, first-year CSD graduate student Lily Kuhaupt, an Appleton native who earned her bachelor’s degree in CSD in 2020, conducts a mock screening, and Jenna Luginbill, an Eau Claire native who is majoring in CSD and Spanish-liberal arts, acts as an interpreter, translating Kuhaupt’s instructions to Spanish.
Prior to the screening day, Luginbill also translated a script of the hearing screening instructions and a letter sent home with Spanish-speaking children who need further evaluation.
In Arcadia, second-year CSD graduate students did the screenings, while first-year CSD graduate students talked with kids as they brought them to and from their assessments. The interpreters also chatted with the kids, helping to decide if screenings should be done in Spanish or English, and acting as interpreters for those who wanted to hear the instructions in English and Spanish or only Spanish.
“Even though they could understand the instructions perfectly in English, many of them wanted to hear them in Spanish as well,” Luginbill says. “I loved this aspect of my experience because it showed how important our presence was as interpreters. We provided evaluations for many students in a way that helped them feel more comfortable throughout the process.”
Casey says she’s proud of the students and all they accomplished with the project.
“Not only did they drive an hour both ways on a Friday near the end of the semester for a voluntary activity, but they also met, created materials and rehearsed necessary medical vocabulary for weeks prior to our trip,” Casey says. “The result of their hard work is a bright, new interdisciplinary relationship between languages, CSD and the Arcadia school district, which promises to grow in the new year.”
Valuable learning experience
The UW-Eau Claire students say using their CSD and/or language skills to support the young students in Arcadia was a rewarding and inspiring experience.
“The experience of working with real people makes what we discuss in class so much more valuable and relatable,” says Elizabeth Ratajski, a CSD major and Spanish for Health Professionals minor from Whitefish Bay. “I’m taking both an audiology course and Spanish for Health Professions, in which we discuss interpretation in detail, so having the two intersect in one experience was so valuable for me.”
Luginbill agrees, saying that engaging in real-world learning experiences “brings a sense of fear and urgency that pushes you to think on your toes and use your educational background while assessing what is going on. Real-world situations also provide more freedom to make mistakes and learn from them because you can take that knowledge and directly apply it instantly.”
Summer Marske, a Spanish-liberal arts and CSD major from Spooner, says her work in Arcadia helped take her CSD knowledge and Spanish-language skills to “the next level,” while also helping her learn “how to be flexible and adapt to different situations on the spot.”
Her day in Arcadia also gave her a glimpse of what her future could look like as a bilingual speech-language pathologist, which is especially exciting, Marske says.
Easing the young students’ anxieties by speaking to them in Spanish was a good reminder that language is powerful, Luginbill says.
“It reminded me just how important languages are and the value they hold,” Luginbill says. “If you aren’t learning a language, you should be, as it teaches you what it feels like to be in a position where communication is of the utmost importance, but you may not have the tools to do so.”
Trying to determine which children should have their evaluations done in Spanish was a challenge that taught her to not “judge a book by its cover,” Ratajski says.
“Some children were very shy, so we assumed they needed Spanish,” Ratajski says. “But when we saw them interact with English speakers, some of them understood completely. Those who really did need the Spanish instructions did appreciate it and were surprised that we were there to help them.”
Kayla Kinzler, a CSD major and Spanish for Health Professions minor who also is earning a certificate in American Sign Language, says that it’s important for students who are studying Spanish to immerse themselves in different cultures and in situations that require them to speak Spanish — even if it’s uncomfortable. After all, the Portage native says, you learn the most when you’re uncomfortable.
While Kinzler was nervous, she found the screening day to be rewarding as “it warmed my heart to be a comfort to some students, as most of the children’s first/most comfortable language was Spanish.”
“I learned so much speaking Spanish, but also from watching the CSD graduate students perform the screenings,” Kinzler says. “I didn’t know what to expect because 86% of students at Arcadia Elementary School speak Spanish. However, I found most children were bilingual and enjoyed having both English and Spanish spoken during the hearing screenings. I found the experience extremely rewarding.”
After their hearing screenings, each child chose a sticker with words written in English or in Spanish. Several bilingual students she helped interpret for selected the Spanish sticker primarily for their parents who only spoke Spanish, Kinzler says.
“That especially warmed my heart and made me aware that the services I provided were comforting for many students,” Kinzler says.
Danielle Clark, a second-year CSD graduate student, spent the day screening third-graders to determine if they might need audiological intervention to support their learning and ability to communicate.
Some kids spoke Spanish, some English, and most were bilingual, says Clark, a native of Balsam Lake. Having interpreters provide support to students who needed or preferred instructions in Spanish was invaluable for the children but also a great learning opportunity for her, she says.
“It was a very collaborative experience with the interpreter students,” Clark says. “It was nice to engage in interdisciplinary collaboration, especially since this will likely happen in the 'real world' post college.”
Working with interpreters is an important skill for speech therapists to have since speech therapy and assessment models are built on language, Clark says.
“It’s important that the process of collaborating with an interpreter is seamless so clients understand what is being asked of them and have a valid means of response,” Clark says. “This is best practice and ensures quality services for clients of various linguistic backgrounds. This should happen whenever a client's primary/most proficient language is something other than English, which is what I am fluent in.”
Gaining these skills through real-life experiences is an extraordinary way to learn, Clark says.
“It's great to learn more about what other disciplines do by seeing it in person rather than learning about it in class or in a book,” Clark says. “It’s helpful to have this experience so we can learn how best to interact with each other to best serve our clients.”
Kuhaupt is certain the skills she gained through the screening project will help her in her future career.
“I will definitely be working with interpreters and children of different cultural backgrounds,” Kuhaupt says. “This was a great experience, learning how best to work with children who don’t speak the same first language as I do. Collaborating with the interpreters was exciting.
“I want to work in schools, and this is something that will come up in my future profession. Listening to the expertise of the Spanish interpreters and combining it with our knowledge as SLPs was a valuable experience. This was a great collaboration experience. I hope the partnership continues in the future.”
Building connections, understanding
Casey says immersing her students in an elementary school in Arcadia was especially meaningful because it will help them better understand the diverse populations living in western Wisconsin.
“As a teacher of Spanish language and Latinx and Hispanic culture, one of my goals is to provide students with opportunities to apply their developing linguistic capabilities to real-life contexts and to get to know our local, Latinx and Spanish-speaking communities,” Casey says. “Many students come into Spanish courses having no idea about the growing presence of Latinx and Hispanic communities in western Wisconsin.
“Community engagement projects like this one give students firsthand experiences that are essential to growing their perspective of who we are as a state and living in community with their Spanish-speaking neighbors.”
Casey’s students say they have an even greater appreciation for the opportunities their Spanish-language skills offer them thanks to the hearing screening project.
“The time I’ve spent learning and practicing Spanish allowed me to connect with a population of students I may never have been able to engage with in the same manner,” Luginbill, who has studied Spanish for nine years, says of lessons she took from the screening project.
Hopefully, Casey says, the Blugolds’ work in the school also helped strengthen the entire community.
“For our partners in Arcadia, my goal is that Spanish-language interpretation nurtures a sense of trust and support among Latinx and Hispanic children and families within their health care, school and community networks,” Casey says.