Speech-Language Pathology Students Foster Literacy Program in the Community

Ongoing Family Literacy Night program features English and Spanish reading activities for children

  • AZ - Glendale
SLP students with Dr. Fissel during the Family Literacy night carrying visual aids to help children read.

Front: Hannah Nied (CHS SLP ’24), Morgan Harris (CHS SLP ’24), Nancy Lira (CHS SLP ’24), Emily Flores (CHS SLP ’24), and Christine Abassi (CHS SLP ’24).
Back: Dr. Fissel

Students in the Speech-Language Pathology program on the Glendale Campus are participating in another year of Family Literacy Night (FLN) with the Glendale Foothills and Heroes Regional libraries. The free, family-centered program invites local children and their families to engage in immersive English and Spanish reading activities. 

Schea Fissel, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, Associate Professor, Speech-Language Pathology (SLP), Glendale and Director of the Translational Adapted Group (TAG) Lab, developed the program in 2020 and oversees the TAG Lab SLP students who conduct all the events. “Each FLN session is structured to begin with a craft, sing a hello song, group shared reading with synchronous gestures, and end with small breakout groups that offer individualized attention to families. The books selected for each session contain repetitive verses, as well as rhyme and alliteration in English and Spanish,” Dr. Fissel said. She also added that each of the supportive activities, such as songs, language, and crafts are tied to the themes in the selected books, which makes it easier for children to learn. 

Dr. Fissel emphasized the importance of prioritizing engagement with books while children are learning how to read. “Those who like reading from an early age are more likely to continue to read. Reading more often leads to better literacy abilities in school, so encouraging early engagement with books is essential,” Dr. Fissel stated. “While each session is designed to exist on its own, families do come back and reattend. Many report on their use of strategies, detailing what worked, and if something is not working, then we troubleshoot that during small group breakout time with families.”


SLP students during the Family Literacy night carrying visual aids to help children read.
(From left to right): Morgan Harris, Yadira Perez (CHS SLP ’24), Selma Peper (CHS SLP ’24), Jenna Dunbar (CHS SLP ’24), Erin Frain (CHS SLP ’24), Kendall Tegins (CHS SLP ’24), Katy Gribbin (CHS SLP ’24), Hannah Nied


Dr. Fissel went over some of the strategies used to engage children and their families in early reading. “The children learn how to use representative gestures (a gesture that represents how something is done). For example, if a cat in a book runs fast, then we all act as if we’re running fast, and this helps to solidify the meaning of the word. We use gestures, often tied to the repetitive verses in the books, to increase social attention, engagement, and awareness of others. Moving together is a great way to maintain engagement for young kids during shared readings. In addition to teaching engagement, we also address early decoding and language comprehension skills, which are both important for learning to read,” Dr. Fissel said. 

“We also use a lot of synchronous movements that support decoding skills, like syllable segmentation with clapping, tapping, and moving sounds to the sounds and syllables in words. Literacy is built on engagement, language comprehension, and being able to decode print,” Dr. Fissel added and elaborated further, “We use universal design as a way of ensuring access and inclusion for children and their families who come to us from varied cultures, languages, and abilities. Universal design for learning just means that all FLN activities are taught using multiple modalities and offer children multiple ways of showing what they know, such as gestures, text, and verbal speech. This way, all children, no matter their background, can attend, engage, and have fun all while learning to love reading with their families.”

Speech-Language Pathology student Marilyn Aceves (CHS SLP ’25) said, “This is my first year as Family Literacy Night Coordinator. The position allows me to gain experience working with parents and providing them education and resources to help their little ones. Attending child language and learning classes have been immensely helpful in preparing me for the Family Literacy Night events. These classes have taught me the significance of reading books as it aids in developing story grammar, which enables children to retell stories with proper structure - a beginning, middle, and end.” 

Marilyn said, “Midwestern University creates a great experience not only for students but also for the surrounding community families. I hold this program in high regard as it means a lot to me, especially coming from a border town where Spanish is the primary language. I'm aware of the limited opportunities for children back home, which is why being a part of a program that involves reading to young children in both English and Spanish is very close to my heart.”  


SLP students during the Family Literacy night carrying visual aids to help children read.
(From left to right): Taylor Alflen (CHS SLP ’24), Yadira Perez, Nancy Lira, Erin Frain, Mackenzie Cooper (CHS SLP ’24), Morgan Harris 


Parents often have questions about their child’s development as far as their speech, language, and communication. Dr. Fissel said, “Families often have questions about whether they should speak a second, non-English language in the home. Parents should know it’s good for children to be exposed to multiple languages early on. It just takes a while for their brains to map out both language systems.” 

Dr. Fissel continued, “As children are exposed to two languages, they are learning to map two words for each concept, essentially doubling the words that a child is learning. Learning to double the words naturally takes more time and is very normal. On the outside, this may look like a language delay, but it isn’t.” Dr. Fissel added research indicates that dual and multilanguage exposure could benefit children’s academic and social performance over time, but further study is required on this topic. 

The literacy program is one of many opportunities Midwestern University provides for students to give back to the community, as a part of building themselves to be patient-centered healthcare professionals. The University offers Speech-Language Pathology programs in Downers Grove and Glendale.

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