Speech-language-hearing clinic day camp helps kids, grad students reach goals

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A long-running Radford University tradition – one that benefits both graduate students as well as children from around the New River Valley – marked its 28th anniversary last month.

It’s the RiteCare Clinic Summer Camp, and it was held at Waldron Hall from June 5-30 as part of the three-decade partnership between Radford’s Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic and the Scottish Rite Masons of Virginia.

“We provide support for kids who have any type of communication disorder, whether it’s related to speech sounds, language or literacy,” said Diane Millar, Ph.D., who coordinates the camp as chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (COSD).

“Our overall goal is to serve the community – the children and families in the New River Valley area – and we also are a training center for our graduate students, so our mission is twofold,” she said. “We educate our graduate student clinicians to provide state-of-the-art therapy, and we are also trying our best to serve the community. We have a lot of folks who can’t afford therapy, and with the help of the Scottish Rite Masons of Virginia, we are able to provide services at no cost to the families.”

About 40 local children participated across five clinical on-campus programs (including preschoolers, a school-age language group and an autism spectrum disorder class), working to develop and enhance their communication and literacy skills.

The camp is fueled by annual contributions from the Scottish Rite, and Alan Adkins, head of the group’s Virginia chapter, said they donated about $160,000 across the state this year, including $33,000 to Radford. 

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Adkins and other members of the organization were on campus June 20 for an event based on the theme “Sail the Seven Seas,” through which they toured the classes and had lunch at Kyle Hall with the participants.

“It’s been a delightful morning, and we appreciate the opportunity to support the RiteCare programs,” Adkins told the audience. He noted that during last year’s luncheon, they had dined with President Bret Danilowicz, who had just begun his first term, and this year, they were helping to welcome new Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Bethany McKay Usher.

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(L to R) Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Bethany McKay Usher, Scottish Rite Treasurer Leonard Rowe and Diane Millar, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders spoke at the RiteCare Clinic Summer Camp luncheon on June 20 at Kyle Hall. Rowe presented a $33,000 check from Scottish Rite’s Virginia chapter, part of the roughly $160,000 the group has donated to schools across the state this year.

“This really does seem to encapsulate what brought me to Radford, that connection between education and the community … and education for the students,” Usher said of the program, during lunch.

She also shared her own firsthand experience with the service group’s positive efforts.

“When I was at the University of Virginia, the Scottish Rite supported me with a scholarship that helped me get through college,” she recalled.

This year’s summer scholarship recipients included graduate students Bristol Choquette, Anna Craven, Emilee Lane, Elizabeth Maneval and Amy Williams.

During the program, they conducted full speech and language evaluations on each client, then, based on their assessments, came up with treatment plans with specific goals for the children to try to reach. The clinicians also formulated day-to-day lesson plans and periodic activities designed to engage their young charges. Ultimately, they recorded details from their sessions together into treatment notes and advised each client’s parents of their child’s progress, providing suggested strategies and recommendations.

“The hands-on clinical experience I got is one of the most valuable experiences I have had so far in the program,” said Emilee Lane, a second-year graduate student who hopes to work with pediatric clients diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

“I have learned so much about treating speech and language needs, while also learning behavior management skills and providing sensory input to children who become easily dysregulated,” Lane explained.

“I gained valuable experience this summer, working with children with different sensory needs and language goals,” said Elizabeth Maneval. “I also learned a lot from my supervisor about how to support these kids and adapt in the moment during a session.”

Bristol Choquette came to the program after a decade as a classroom teacher in North Carolina and Virginia.

“Overall, my goal is to help people communicate effectively so that they can participate in the things they want to participate in. Communication is an integral part of building meaningful relationships,” Choquette said.

Millar, who has overseen the camp since around 2008, said the program attracts talented educators and clinicians who tend to build on their early promise.

“They are really phenomenal students,” she explained. “They work really well, and they shine in terms of what they do after they leave our program. We have a 100% pass rate on our national exam and a 100% employment rate.”

She also singled out for praise this year’s Radford University RiteCare faculty supervisors – instructors of communication sciences and disorders Rachel Greene and Elizabeth Laux, and speech-language pathologists Brandi Holland '09, M.A. '09, Michelle Sherfy and Shelby Sowers.

“We’re all alumni from our master’s program, which gives the department a full-circle moment,” Millar said. “It’s really great that our alums can come back and pay it forward as supervisors in our programs.”

Jul 10, 2023
Neil Harvey