Callier Center, Dallas ISD Team Up in Speech Pathology Initiative

Callier Center, UT Dallas

UT Dallas graduate student Gabbi Morgan plays a game that encourages verbal expression and comprehension with children at a school in the Dallas Independent School District. Morgan is working toward a master’s degree in communication disorders.

UT Dallas’ School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences is partnering with the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) to develop a speech language pathology (SLP) initiative specifically focused on combating the shortage of SLP professionals in urban schools. 

Experts at the University’s Callier Center for Communication Disorders are collaborating with DISD educators to develop an introductory curriculum in communication disorders for high school students interested in the health sciences, while also providing hands-on experience at urban schools for undergraduate and graduate students. The goal is to place more speech language pathologists at DISD. 

“We want to give graduate students an outstanding experience at DISD so they will really want to work there,” said Janice Lougeay, director of clinical education at the Callier Center. “We want to inspire them and eliminate the perception that working in urban school districts is a negative experience.” 

The cool thing about working with these kids in the urban setting is that you know that you are really making a difference and making sure that all kids, regardless of circumstance, are getting the help they need.

UT Dallas graduate Emily Roff,
who will be a full-time speech language pathologist for Dallas ISD starting this fall

There are more than 4,800 children in DISD schools who need specialized speech and language services. Speech therapy is available to students who exhibit a communication disorder, such as stuttering, articulation, language, or voice impairments that adversely affect their educational performance, and creates a need for specialized instruction. 

The district has 140 SLP positions, but not all of them can be filled because DISD cannot attract enough speech language pathologists. It must contract with outside providers to fill in the gaps. 

Angela Pittman, recently retired DISD executive director of special education, said factors such as poverty, cultural diversity and second-language learning affect language development — issues that often exist for children growing up in urban settings. 

“We have a very unique group of students, with very different challenges that are often found in urban communities,” she said. “When graduate students are able to work with these children who have complex needs and come from diverse backgrounds, they are able to impact lives in ways that they never imagined.” 

Recent UT Dallas graduate Emily Roff said she has had a great experience working with children and DISD schools. 

“I love it. Regardless of their socioeconomic status, parents show up and want to help their kids,” she said. “And the kids are there to learn. They enjoy feeling like they are getting special attention and are making progress. 

The UT Dallas-DISD partnership helps the district with SLP training and staffing on three levels. 

  • The Callier Center has worked with DISD to develop a career pathway for high school students interested in becoming a speech language pathologist. This fall, ninth-graders entering the communication disorders pathway will participate in coursework that introduces them to careers in the Allied Health professions, including speech language pathology. Callier Center SLP professional and graduate students will serve as advisors and co-developers of the curriculum design, and provide opportunities for high school students to observe service providers in public schools. The new high school program will be based at DISD’s School of Health Professions at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center in Dallas.
  • A second track encourages students to enroll at UT Dallas to receive a bachelor’s degree in speech-language pathology and audiology. Mentoring will be a key part of this program, with graduate students providing support to students receiving experience in Dallas schools. After receiving a bachelor’s degree, a student could then continue to graduate school or work as a speech language pathologist assistant.
  • The third level focuses on students working toward their master’s degree and license as a speech language pathologist. Students in the program receive a stipend while gaining experience providing speech and language therapy, and engaging in outcome-based research within the Dallas schools. 

Although students at every level will be exposed to employment opportunities at DISD, students will not be required to work there. 

UT Dallas graduate students have been receiving practicum experience at Dallas ISD through the program since last fall. Pittman said that the on-site experience already has helped to increase the number of UT Dallas master’s degree students who are interested in working in the district. 

Roff, who graduated this summer with a master’s degree in communication disorders, helped screen DISD 4- and 5-year-olds earlier this year as part of the new partnership program. She works as a full-time speech language pathologist for the district. 

“I don’t think I would work anywhere else,” Roff said. "The cool thing about working with these kids in the urban setting is that you know that you are really making a difference and making sure that all kids, regardless of circumstance, are getting the help they need.” 

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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