By Molly Robey, Assistant Director of Communications, Loyola University Maryland
When the coronavirus pandemic hit Baltimore in March, faculty and graduate students at the Loyola Clinical Centers (LCC) at Loyola University Maryland were tasked with moving operations entirely online to support clients and assist the local community.
“The faculty at the LCC took on the task of not only delivering services to their clients via telehealth/telepractice, but also the excellent training of our graduate students in psychology, speech-language-hearing and literacy,” said Kara Vincent, executive director of the LCC.
The LCC provides state-of-the-art facilities and treatment for people experiencing difficulties in the areas of psychology, literacy, hearing, speech and language. Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, many LCC programs have continued to offer services and, as a result, received positive feedback from clients.
“The efforts of our faculty and students and their ability to adapt in these circumstances are what allowed the LCC to thrive,” said Vincent.
In 2013, Mary Lee Walls, a speech-language pathologist and clinical supervisor, started a Reading Readiness program and Articulation Therapy program at St. Mark Catholic School in Catonsville, MD. With the help of Lisa Tolino-Hill, also a speech-language pathologist and clinical supervisor, and many Loyola graduate students, the team translated this program online this past summer, to offer children an engaging virtual educational experience.
“One of the benefits of moving to a virtual platform is [expanding our] geographical range,” Walls explained. “The creativity of the graduate students carrying out instruction virtually is impressive and requires a tremendous amount of planning—and the excitement of the children makes it all worth it.”
The 2020 program has consisted of a series of group therapy sessions offered via telepractice using a HIPAA-secure Zoom platform. Sessions have focused on Reading Readiness, Reading Comprehension, and written language for students from kindergarten through sixth grade.
“The primary goal of this program is to engage students with reading and writing activities that are fun, purposeful and thought-provoking,” said Tolino-Hill. “We can, and do, teach them specific strategies that help them comprehend what they read, as well as ways to generate and expand their ideas in writing. A huge piece of engagement depends on the environment we create: a place where we model excitement about reading and writing, where they know their ideas are important, and where they have the time and opportunity to share those ideas.”
Focus on speech, psychology and wellness
In addition to the St. Mark Summer Program, the LCC worked with Govans Elementary School—just a short walk east from Loyola’s Evergreen campus in Baltimore—to provide a virtual program for middle schoolers and rising sixth graders. Clinical instructors and speech-language pathologists Marissa Kleiman and Jill Keller worked to develop the seven-week speech-language pathology virtual sessions, which targeted vocabulary and reading comprehension for the eight student participants.
In addition to the speech-language pathology sessions, students were engaged in a five-week virtual wellness program, led by Hadley Cornell, clinical assistant professor of psychology and division director of psychology at LCC.
“This wellness camp offered students skills in managing emotions, such as coping and mindfulness techniques,” said Cornell. “We were excited to have the opportunity to provide such support despite the barriers and added stresses that Covid-19 has brought on. We think this summer was especially important for children to have the tools to manage their emotions.”
Offering virtual support to adult clients
Meanwhile, telepractice sessions were held virtually to support mental wellness among adult clients, and assist patients with neurological disorders. For the past two years, several patients suffering from aphasia (a language-impairment condition) have received therapy through singing. This summer, Cindy Nichols and Theresa Alexander, clinical faculty and speech-language pathologists, created a virtual experience for their Aphasia Choir, where participants could sing with others via Zoom. Choir members enjoyed the online format and asked for more time to chat among themselves after the weekly sessions.
“I think these virtual sessions are a great use of the technology,” said Nichols. “We plan to continue to offer them in the fall for our clients. The virtual experience has been well-received and has been great for our community members who live far away and have other restrictions.”
LCC executive director Vincent added, “Through all the uncertainty, resilience was and continues to be key. We are all facing challenges, both personally and professionally, but at some point during these unprecedented times, my hope is that each of us can stop, take a breath, and feel good about what we have each given to Loyola and our extended community. We have a long, uncertain road ahead, but with continued collaboration and grit, we will get through this.”
Service-learning for undergraduates
Although LCC offers an exceptional example of blending learning with service to the community, Loyola faculty have also found innovative ways to do so in their undergraduate courses. As the pandemic continues to affect the greater Baltimore community, faculty have been eager to offer educational service opportunities that address human and community needs, along with reflection and reciprocity.
“One of Loyola’s strongest assets is our small class size, which allows students and professors to collaborate on exciting projects like the service-learning work we are completing during the fall semester,” said Allen Brizee, Ph.D. As an associate professor of writing and faculty director for community-engaged learning and scholarship, Brizee was challenged with moving his service-learning course entirely online for the semester. Students in his ‘Writing for the Web and Social Media’ course are collaborating virtually with GEDCO/CARES Career Connection to help their clients find and apply for jobs, and write cover letters and résumés. Students are also working with CRISPAZ, a non-profit organization based in El Salvador, to analyze, test and improve their website.
“Unemployment and the digital divide are especially serious problems in Baltimore. My students are working with GEDCO/CARES clients to help increase employment opportunities and decrease the technological barriers that keep Black people from accessing resources that many White people take for granted,” Brizee explained. “The Covid-19 pandemic has amplified the negative effects of racism and injustice, and service-learning is needed now more than ever.”