Training to become speech and language pathologists, graduate students at Cal State San Marcos hosted intensive language day camps and clinics over the summer at no cost for 60 children, teens and adults struggling with communication impairments and disorders.

“Let me hear that ‘L’ sound,” asked graduate student Ashley Wright during a cleverly conceptualized craft activity that focused on pronunciation using a jungle-themed lesson plan.

“Lion!” exclaimed four-year-old Bella, who was decorating her safari binoculars recently constructed out of toilet paper rolls.

“Very good, Bella. Now let me hear you say zebra.”

While 18 speech- and language-impaired children enjoy seemingly fun arts and crafts activities during a four-week day camp, graduate students in the University’s Communicative Sciences and Disorders program, like Wright, are busy at work, helping preschoolers and kindergarteners improve speech sounds, articulation, grammar and social interaction. In addition to the classroom and small group instruction provided at the camp, each child also receives one-on-one speech therapy sessions with an assigned student clinician, who monitors the child’s progress throughout the duration of the camp.

“For our individual speech therapy sessions, each graduate student works separately with two children,” explained Dr. Lori Heisler, professor of Communicative Sciences and Disorders.  “The student is then responsible for assessing the child’s initial language skills, establishing short-term goals, monitoring skill development and producing a final report for the parents at the end of the camp that documents the child’s progress.”

A few doors down in Academic Hall, another free camp, called Social Teaching and Recreation (STAR), offers a different twist on building communication skills for  teenagers with high functioning autism. In this program, graduate students teach social language and social skills to middle school- and high school-aged youth, who because of autism, struggle with communication and social interaction.

Like the other language camp, the instruction in the STAR program is designed to engage the youth in fun and meaningful activities. Magazine cut out art projects, paper mache volcano science experiments and filmed role playing activities are integrated into the lesson plan and used to teach skills such as initiating and maintain conversations, giving and receiving compliments, and reading nonverbal body language.

“The children and youth in these camps are spending four hours a day practicing something they’re not proficient in, and yet they’re having fun while also making incredible progress,” added Heisler.

In addition to coordinating two onsite camps, the graduate program also hosted a language and communication clinic at the San Marcos Community Center for adults with acquired brain injuries and another clinic at TERI, Inc working with adults with developmental disabilities.

“The camps and clinics are beneficial not only for our community members struggling with communication, but it also enables our students to gain real-world experience as they prepare for their future career in speech-language pathology,” said Sue Moineau, professor and coordinator of the Communicative Sciences and Disorders program.

The Communicative Sciences and Disorders option, which is rounding out its first year at CSUSM, is offered in partnership with the School of Education and Extended Learning. In order for students to earn their Master of Arts in Education, they must log a total of 400 supervised clinical hours, of which 20 percent of those hours are being met through the program’s first language camps and clinics.

Offered at no cost to community members, the services that the graduate students provide at the camp would comparatively cost a client $150 an hour for private lessons from a licensed speech pathologist. And for families who rely on school district funded programs for speech and language therapy, those services just simply aren’t available to children during the summer months. At CSUSM, the program has a two-to-one client-to-graduate-student ratio and each language camp is supervised by two licensed clinicians.

The demands for the specialized day camps and the services the graduate students provide have been evident, even in its first year. Each of the camps reached full capacity, and one camp even had an overwhelming response with many children on the waiting list. Moineau hopes to continue the adult clinics throughout the year, and annually offer the kids’ and teens’ camps during the summer.

 “We’re excited to be able to fill a need in our community,” she said. “This is what our mission as a University is all about.”

“The camps and clinics are beneficial not only for our community members struggling with communication, but it also enables our students to gain real-world experience as they prepare for their future career in speech-language pathology,” said Sue Moineau, professor and coordinator of the Communicative Sciences and Disorders program.