Concordia University Wisconsin’s speech-language pathology program may be brand new, but it’s already making a big difference in school-aged children’s lives.

Take John and Nick, for example (Pseudonyms have been assigned to protect the privacy of the minors mentioned). The boys attend second grade at St. Martini Lutheran, a LUMIN School located in Milwaukee. Nearly every Wednesday since the start of the semester, the two have participated in half-hour language enrichment sessions led by CUW seniors majoring in communication sciences and disorders. Under the supervision of their professor, the Concordia students routinely guide the young learners through a variety of phonics and grammar exercises, all the while enforcing proper placement of the tongue for optimal pronunciation and offering ample encouragement.

On Wednesday, April 24, John and Nick practiced their present- and past-tense verbs and continued an ongoing lesson on proper pronunciation of their “L’s.”

At one point, John tried a sentence: “I touched the lion.” (Only “touched” came out sounding like “tut.”)

As a reward for his hard work, this St. Martini student got to play Ants in the Pants with Professor Mikaely Schmitz (left) and CUW senior Emily Bubla.Main image: A St. Martini second-grader practices present- and past-tense verbs with CUW senior Jenna Straszheim. Above: As a reward for his hard work, this St. Martini student got to play Ants in the Pants with Professor Mikaely Schmitz (left) and CUW senior Emily Bubla.

The young pupil immediately sensed he hadn’t said it quite right. He tried again, and again, and then, with a little assistance from Professor Mikaely Schmitz, he got it. A big smile broke out across his face, and the CUW team was quick to contribute their praise.

Both John and Nick live in bilingual households; John attended his first year of school in Puerto Rico even. It’s been a task for the two to master the tricky “L” consonant among other complexities in the English language, but they’ve shown tremendous improvement in just the past couple of months, says Schmitz.

The two aren’t alone. Nearly 89 percent of the St. Martini student body is of Latin descent, and thanks to Concordia, so far nine of them have benefited from free speech-language pathology enrichment services that they would not have otherwise received. According to federal guidelines, the public school district only has to allocate a certain percentage of their total federal special education budget to providing special education services, including speech language services, to students enrolled in private schools. Oftentimes the private schools can’t afford to hire a speech-language pathologist for students who are on the waitlist for services plans.

St. Martini would have been one of those schools if not for Concordia’s blossoming SLP program. In 2015, the university launched its Bachelor of Science in communication sciences and disorders degree program, the complementary baccalaureate degree program to its brand new Master of Science in speech-language pathology program, which will graduate its first senior class this May. Just last month, CUW received accreditation for its graduate-level program and courses are scheduled to begin this summer.

Thanks to the foundation begun this semester between St. Martini and CUW’s undergraduate students, the master’s-level students will be able to dive right in and begin offering a Speech and Language Intervention Clinic at St. Martini. The clinic, which is run in partnership with the Center for Urban Teaching summer school program, will be open to students from the school community who qualify for services and continue in partnership with St. Martini throughout the school year.

The graduate-level students will also benefit from the brand new Speech, Language, & Hearing Clinic, which will be housed in The Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center on Concordia’s campus. The university’s newest academic building is slated for completion by the start of the fall 2019 semester.

While other speech-language pathology programs in the state rely solely on the accessibility of their on-site clinics, Concordia is unique in that it will continue to expose students to off-site learning opportunities as well.

“We’re working really hard to live (or build) Concordia’s mission of serving in the world,” says Schmitz. “We’re all actively living our faith through our service to the community, and it’s been so exciting to start to see this partnership with St. Martini take shape. I can’t wait for our graduate students to join the fun and help us expand the services we can offer to the community while enhancing their clinical education in a powerful way.”

Learn more about CUW’s communication and sciences bachelor’s program here and click here to learn about the speech-language pathology master’s program.

— This story is written by Kali Thiel, director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at or 262-243-2149.

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