St. Cloud State University Communication Sciences and Disorders graduate students completed a community outreach pilot program this summer, tackling a growing need for children to receive attention for suspected communication disorders.
The program, named Husky Pediatric Outreach for Unique Needs in Communication Education (POUNCE), ran for eight weeks between June 15-Aug. 3.
A total of 26 Communication Sciences and Disorders graduate students were supervised by four faculty members: Dr. Rebecca Crowell, Dr. Sarah Schaefer, Prachi Bengeri and Dr. Joy McKenzie. They were joined by two Clinical Mental Health Counseling graduate students under the direction of Dr. Tina Sacin, teaming up to successfully serve 11 families.
Wait lists for evaluations can extend from six months to two years at local outpatient medical clinics and schools, frustrating parents and caregivers as their children miss out on key time for communication development that could hinder future growth.
“It’s a big concern, especially if we’re thinking early intervention and how important that is,” Communication Sciences and Disorders Department Chair Dr. Joy McKenzie said. “If you have a two-year-old that isn’t talking, they might be three or four before they’re evaluated. They’re missing out on a huge timespan of development.”
The POUNCE program seeks to bridge that gap, giving the children an introduction to therapy while equipping caregivers with knowledge, tools and resources to help grow their child’s communication skills while they remain on wait lists.
The weekly sessions ran for 1.5 hours, taking place at St. Cloud State’s on-campus Speech-Language and Hearing Clinic. The clinic is donation-based, which allows it to be accessible to the community and serve over 100 clients of varying age ranges each semester.
The facility allowed all 11 families to meet simultaneously, going through three half-hour sessions. The first involved caregiver support while student clinicians worked with children. Then the caregivers would enter to observe the child’s session, culminating in a final session directly involving the caregivers and children that could be evaluated.
Graduate students in the CSD department take a counseling class intended for speech language pathologists. The POUNCE program allowed them to see how important the caregiver-clinician relationship can be in their work.
“Kids may not respond to their caregivers or parents like the therapist,” McKenzie said. “It really is hard to transition the work from the therapy room to the home. For the students that was a big takeaway.”
McKenzie added that clients made noticeable progress in the eight weeks, which usually takes longer to see results. It was also beneficial to get a diverse population of clients, including from different socioeconomic backgrounds. This allows further discussion on how to support those families, including access and equity for community members.
Communication Sciences and Disorders partnered with CentraCare Pediatric Outpatient Rehabilitation and local schools to help recruit participants. St. Cloud Area SERTOMA Club also gave the department funds to help pilot the program, allowing audiological needs to be identified via hearing tests for each client.
POUNCE is another example of the department’s commitment to the It’s Time framework, showcasing the work of teacher-scholars and their commitment to student success. The inter-professional work of POUNCE allows for collaboration across multiple departments, something McKenzie said will be key for students in the workplace.
“We can’t work in silos; our patients are too complex to figure out things all alone,” McKenzie said. “I hope that they can take this experience and when they go out and work in the field, they are able to work with other professionals and carry those skills forward that we taught them here.”
The department hopes to see POUNCE be an ongoing initiative, aiming for another round in the spring.