The last column of this year will summarize an experience I had abroad this summer. During the month of July 2006, I had an opportunity to teach part of two graduate classes to a cohort of 21 graduate students enrolled in the Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology who are completing their graduate degrees as result of an awarded training grant between San José State University (SJSU) in California and the University of Guam. The students completed these two courses online. The majority of the students are currently elementary, secondary or English as a Second Language teachers.
The island of Guam and the surrounding region that includes the islands of Northern Mariana, Federated States of Micronesia and Marshall Islands do not have any programs to train speech and language pathologists. Yet, an estimated 250 certified clinicians are needed in the region. Currently, there are only approximately 35 ASHA certified SLPs who are practicing in the region. The total school-age population is 98,000 with an estimated 10,000 students enrolled in special education. SLPs services are also needed to work with adult patients.
The graduate students in the present cohort come from the Island of Guam and surrounding islands of Saipan and Pohnapei. Two thirds of the students have varying degrees of proficiency in Chamorro, which is one of the official languages of Guam and some of the other islands. One student is fluent in Tagalog and Ilocano, while other students who come from the surrounding islands speak their local languages that include Carolinian and Pohnpeian.
SLPs working in Guam and Micronesia face similar dilemmas as those SLPs working in the mainland because of the variety of languages and cultures represented in the school age and older populations. Appropriate assessment and intervention strategies must therefore be implemented to identify and work with those individuals in need for services in speech, language, and development of communication. skills. Just as in the mainland, autism is an issue of great concern to both families and professionals. However, SLPs and other special educators do not have easy access to attend conferences or communicate more directly with fellow professionals due to distances and scarcity of trained personnel in their respective fields. They must rely on online communication for the most part.
Voices from some of the students echo these concerns and express hopes to serve populations in need with greater expertise.
From Merleen: “I am from a small island called Pohnpei, one of the four states of Micronesia in the Pacific. Back home, we don’t have any speech and language pathologists to help those who need this service. It was a great opportunity to acquire more knowledge by attending this graduate program. In the past I have worked with so many kids with special needs who have language disorders and we tried to help them in a way we could without having the adequate background. Once I complete this program I hope to serve all children and adults no matter what their gender, age or culture. I believe my homeland is much in need to have more speech and language pathologists to improve the services and lives of these individuals, and I am one who must do this.”
From Melanie: “I am a parent of a child who receives speech and language services. I decided to pursue a Master’s in speech and language pathology because I understand the need for these types of services. I would like to help provide services to the children of Guam and hopefully help or assist the general education teacher as well in the teaching of our special students.”
From Lynn: “I am pursuing a Master’s degree because I want to better myself and be a role model to my children. There are so many students not only in Saipan but all around the Micronesian Islands who are in need of SLP services. I will be very happy if I could make a difference in at least one child’s life when I get my Master’s degree.”
The experience of spending one month in Guam with such dedicated students enriched my views on different cultures and made me realize that the field of speech-language pathology is indeed central in improving the quality of lives of children and adults needing our services throughout the world.
Coming up in January 2007
What’s New in Research and Publications on Bilingualism and Related Areas?