May is Better Hearing & Speech Month
Theresa Jones, M.S., CCC-SLP is the Director of Clinical Instruction and Speech/Language Services at Central Michigan University (CMU). Theresa has been a speech-language pathologist (SLP) for over 20 years. She received her Master’s degree in speech-language pathology from Howard University where she specialized in infant and toddler service delivery. She received her bachelor degree from Northwestern University in speech-language pathology. Before becoming the Director of the CMU Speech-Language Pathology clinic, Theresa worked as a clinical educator for 13 years and as an SLP with individuals through the lifespan in a variety of settings.
ED: How did you begin your career in early childhood?
I began working as a teacher’s aide and bus driver in a rural Head Start program in Newaygo County, MI in a gap year between undergraduate and graduate school—before I even knew what a gap year was! Little did I know that this would begin my career in early childhood. After this I was accepted to Howard University’s Master’s degree program in speech-language pathology under an Office of Special Education Program-funded personnel development grant. This grant afforded me an infant/toddler specialization, which provided me additional clinical clock hours with this population. I began working in NY in a birth to three program right after I graduated, and have held many positions working with early childhood populations in Grand Rapids, MI and Milwaukee, WI since then.
I’ve worked in center-based programs such as Penfield Children’s Center as a staff speech-language pathologist (SLP) with wonderful inter-professional teams. This opportunity allowed me to work in homes and child care agencies within the greater Milwaukee, WI area. In addition, I began working with the Milwaukee Women’s Center program, which implemented a birth to three program as part of their wraparound services for some of the neediest women and children in the area. While I have not exclusively worked with the early childhood population in my current position as Director of Clinical Instruction and Speech-Language Services, we provide services within our on-campus clinic to infants and toddlers and their families and I place students in internship and externship placements, which serve our youngest children and their families.
ED: What efforts have you been involved in to improve the quality of early childhood programs and services?
I have worked as a clinical instructor supporting SLP graduate students in providing services to preschool children with disabilities. We have worked to assist the students in developing competencies in coaching parents and engaging in inter-professional practice with special educators, paraprofessionals, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and social workers. I am currently working with the state of Michigan’s Early On Center for Higher Education to develop and implement a faculty guide so they can familiarize pre-professionals with Early On’s procedures and practices. I am also working to see if we can develop inter-professional simulations to help our students learn to effectively communicate with other early childhood providers, and increase their knowledge and understanding of the effects of aversive childhood experiences.
ED: What are some of the challenges you have experienced in your work and what strategies have you tried to overcome them?
I think that the challenges we experience are not different than other university programs’ experiences—our workload and schedules impact our ability to step out of our silos to provide effective training and education for our pre-professional students. In addition, we are constrained with the numbers of students we can place with early intervention programs because the amount of time spent travelling to complete home visits limits the number of direct contact hours that students are able to accrue in our more rural setting. In addition, we face a challenge teaching our students effective coaching techniques within our on-campus clinics. To overcome these challenges, we have begun to offer a module focused on early intervention in our clinical practicum class. We have added professional learning communities within our department that expose our students to more early childhood principles as well. We are also developing simulated events, and we hope to interface with more disciplines on campus that provide services to young children and their families.
ED: What suggestions do you have for others interested in improving early childhood services and programs?
I suggest that we continue to reach out to develop partnerships at the university level. These partnerships at the pre-professional level can have the effect of making collaboration and inter-professional practice the norm. By increasing our students’ awareness of adverse childhood experiences, we can also impact those families and internship placements that our students work with in the community.
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