Chapman Graduate students tutor homeless preschoolers

By Sabrina Santoro
The Panther
April 3, 2016

From left, Adviser Alene Litton work with graduate students Leticia Huerta, Tegan Tran, Trisha Thapar and Ani Marganian currently work with homeless preschoolers at the Illumination Foundation. Photo courtesy of Chapman University.

From left, Adviser Alene Litton work with graduate students Leticia Huerta, Tegan Tran, Trisha Thapar and Ani Marganian currently work with homeless preschoolers at the Illumination Foundation. Photo courtesy of Chapman University.

Every week, graduate students in Chapman’s communication sciences and disorders program work at the Illumination Foundation’s Children’s Resource Center in Stanton to tutor homeless preschoolers.

Alene Litton, the clinical supervisor of the graduate students who participate in the program, said they help children who are at risk for potential academic gaps by facilitating language and literary development.

“It’s not just the learning of English that is important. It is knowing how to spell your name. It is knowing the names of the dinosaurs. It is knowing how to advocate for yourself by asking for help or declaring ‘my space,’” Litton wrote in an email. “These are the skills that are targeted to help the Illumination Foundation students be ready for success in school.”

The Illumination Foundation was created in 2007 with the goal of providing “targeted, interdisciplinary services for the most vulnerable homeless clients to break or prevent the cycle of homelessness.”

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“The students we work with come from homeless families. The goal is to expose the children to rich language, and get a head start on literacy skills that will be foundational for future academic success, which begins in kindergarten,” said Lety Huerta, a class of ’18 graduate student who is part of the program. “At Illumination Foundation we provide extra support so children can learn to read and write, and we make sure they are literate and ready for kindergarten.”

During the fall semester of the graduate program, all first years spend two mornings per week working with the preschoolers at the foundation. During the spring semester, four students are assigned to work for the entire semester at Illumination Foundation as student clinicians, giving the children language, math and listening lessons.

The students work in two teams to create lesson plans and provide materials each semester. There are 10 children in the preschool, so each student was assigned to two or three of the children to help them meet their goals.

“We do not formally assess at Illumination Foundation,” Huerta said. “We chose what goals we wanted to work on for the semester. All goals are language based.”

A typical day with the graduate students at the Illumination Foundation begins at 10 a.m. and ends at noon. The students guide the preschool class through various rotations that help in developing skills that range from literacy and language development to name recognition. The preschoolers participate in activities such as reading a story, making a craft and learning about nutrition, said Trisha Thapar, a class of ’18 graduate student who is part of the program

“We close the two-hour day with a closing circle where each kid talks about what they learned or what they remember doing in order to build narrative skills and to have things they can tell their parents about the school day,” Thapar said. “I’ve seen immense progress in my kids. It’s a beautiful experience.”

The graduate students, who are working toward receiving their master’s degree in communication sciences and disorders, also benefit from their volunteer work. With the goal of becoming speech therapists, the students are learning therapy techniques that they will be able to use in their future careers.

“Each of the students who works at the Illumination Foundation takes away new insight and skills after their experience. I especially enjoy the intensity of the second semester, as I watch the students develop skills that make them specialists in facilitating and developing communication,” Litton wrote. “These are techniques that they will use throughout their careers. The impact that these small children have on the Chapman students is beyond description.”

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