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The Power of Words

CMU camp improves communication skills

Contact: Curt Smith


​The summer speech-language specialty clinic at Central Michigan University is a five-week camp offered through CMU's department of communication disorders. Designed to improve the skills of children ages 3 to 14 with speech and language disorders, the camp also gives CMU students hands-on experiences in the communication disorders field. All students who want to earn a Master of Arts in speech-language pathology must work as student clinicians at the camp.

The camp will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2016.​​


By Samantha Smallish

For most families, camping means getting away from it all. It’s just the opposite for Cindy Rhein and her family.

That’s because Rhein and her children, Samantha, 14; Matthew, 11; and Gwendolynn, 7; travel more than 100 miles from Capac to Mount Pleasant each summer and stay in their camper for five weeks so Matthew can attend the summer speech-language specialty clinic at Central Michigan University.

“My girls are away from home for five weeks, and I’m away from my husband because he’s home working so that we can be here, so it’s tough,” Rhein said. “But we love being up here—and we’re here every year because we know Matthew loves coming up.”

Matthew started attending camp at age 6. Suffering from speech complications, ADHD and vision problems, Matthew has struggled to feel confident with himself—an issue that subsides once he steps foot onto CMU’s campus and is greeted by other campers he has become friends with over the years.

“Here, he’s confident. It doesn’t matter that his speech isn’t perfect or that he struggles with simple things,” she said. “And that, more than anything, is why we come back—to watch him be the one who’s important, the one whose name is known, the one who has friends, and the one who is accepted for who he is.”

While the main goal of camp is to help children improve their communication skills, Matthew’s personal growth is essential to his continuous return—although his speech advancements with each passing year haven’t gone unnoticed.

At camp, children work with CMU faculty, staff and graduate students in both group and individual settings. This year, Matthew worked with Warren graduate student Travis McClure, who is studying to become a speech-language pathologist.

“I spent my entire day with Matthew, so I was able to develop a great rapport with him,” McClure said. “It’s very rewarding to watch him achieve his goals and equally rewarding to watch his confidence grow when interacting with his peers.”

When the five weeks come to a close, Rhein and her girls admit they’re ready to pack up and head home—but their campground reservation is already made, and they have plans for new things to do in preparation for the next year.

When it comes to care for Matthew, Rhein said she never wants to be left feeling “what if.” And when it comes to camp, she knows she’s made the right decision for her son—and her family.

“Each year, he’s a little more comfortable in his own skin and in the fact that this is the way it is and that it’s okay,” she said. “We leave camp heading into the school year with a confident little boy who isn’t afraid to walk through the doors at school and face whatever challenges there are.”

For more information about the summer speech-language specialty clinic contact Coordinator Mary Beth Smith at 989-774-2877.


By Amy Soper

A year and a half ago Charlie Mickey couldn’t say his own name.

That was before he began attending the summer speech-language specialty clinic at Central Michigan University. Charlie, 4, now can say his own name and attended camp for the second summer in a row this year to further develop his speech and communication.

“We’ve seen a huge growth in his being able to understand, socialize and make friends,” said Charlie’s mom, Kerri Mickey. “After the second week of camp this year his grandpa told me he could better understand Charlie and wasn’t having to ask him to repeat so much of what he was saying.”

Camp helps children like Charlie, who struggle with developmental delays and other conditions that make speech and communication difficult, keep pace with their peers. Charlie practices speech skills while at the same time learning about numbers, the alphabet and days of the week.

On a Thursday morning at camp, Charlie and his clinician Danielle “Dani” Lamphere, a CMU graduate student from Cadillac, played a game they called hide the bug. Charlie and Danielle took turns hiding a picture of a bug behind pictures of other objects, and then attempting to find the bug. Charlie would identify and say the names of the pictures – words like “dog” and “go” that give him an opportunity to practice the “duh” and “guh” sounds of speech.

“Teacher Dani is his favorite part of camp,” Kerri said. “I think he likes the one-on-one attention.”

Lamphere works with two different campers—Charlie in the morning and another student in the afternoon. In her classroom, campers participate in group story time, book reading, skill centers, free play and circle time at the end of the day. During free play and skill center times, Lamphere has the opportunity to work individually with Charlie.

“Over the course of the summer specialty clinic, I’ve seen the growth in Charlie’s speech and language skills,” said Lamphere, who earned her bachelor’s degree from CMU in May 2014. She’s now pursuing a Master of Arts in speech-language pathology. “I may end up working in a school setting, so this experience will better prepare me.”

Kerri said the camp is something her family will budget for as long as it’s recommended for Charlie. It’s a commitment of money and time – it costs $700 for five weeks of half days, and it takes 40 minutes to drive to CMU from their home in Canadian Lakes to drop off and pick up Charlie from the camp in the Health Professions Building. But, Kerri says it’s worth it and, in some ways, is a continuation of a family tradition.

Kerri, her husband, Rob, Kerri’s parents and her grandparents all graduated from CMU.

“We would have gone anywhere for Charlie, but it’s more meaningful that we come here,” Kerri said. “Charlie tells people he’s going to CMU school.”

For more information about the summer speech-language specialty clinic, contact Coordinator Mary Beth Smith at 989-774-2877.

Meet some of the CMU students who make the summer speech-language specialty clinic happen and how it is changing their lives.

Before being part of the summer speech-language specialty clinics, Vanessa Burshnic knew her passion was to work with older populations.

While the speech-language pathology graduate student still has her heart set on working with adults, the children at camp became part of her everyday life, as her weekend thoughts traveled back to their time together during the week.

“I found myself thinking about my kids on the weekends,” Burshnic said, laughing. “You can’t help but start to love these kids. And through the good and bad, they love you, too, because in the end, I think they know you have their best interest in mind.”

After camp, the New Jersey native feels ready to work with any age group – a confidence that will help her become a well-rounded professional.

“It’s the most real-life experience you can get,” she said. “I feel I’ll be prepared to work with any child at this point.”

Next summer Jordan McCarthy will be a veteran of the summer speech-language specialty clinics at Central Michigan University. That’s because the Alma woman got a head start with the program in 2015 working as an undergraduate assistant.

McCarthy was one of three undergraduate students who applied and was hired to work with the program and get a preview of one of the requirements she’ll need to complete to earn her Master of Arts in speech-language pathology.

“It’s a great opportunity to see what I’ll be involved with in the future,” said McCarthy, who graduated from CMU with a Bachelor of Applied Arts in communication disorders in May 2015. “I watched the clinicians be so involved with the children in all of their activities. Even if they were playing kickball, the clinicians found a way to work communication into the activity.”

McCarthy assisted the clinicians by planning fun Friday events for the children and organizing special programs focusing on movement, sign language and other topics during the week. She begins the first semester of the two-year master’s program this fall and will serve as a student clinician when the clinics celebrate their 70th anniversary in 2016.

“Summer specialty clinics are an amazing place for kids to come have fun while improving their communication skills,” McCarthy said. “It’s a positive experience for everyone involved.”

Before attending a Central Michigan University orientation, Alexa Buckland didn’t know what speech-language pathology was. Now she’s just two semesters away from earning her master’s degree in the program.

“I knew I wanted to do something in the health professions, but I wasn’t sure what,” the graduate student from Grand Haven said. “At orientation I learned about the program and its requirements. I decided to take an introductory speech-language pathology class and fell in love with it.”

Buckland just completed a stint working as a student clinician with the summer speech-language specialty clinic at CMU. She said the five-week clinic reinforces the process she’ll need to use in her career from determining the support a child needs to developing and executing a treatment plan to evaluating the outcome.

“Helping people to see growth and change in five weeks of camp is awesome,” said Buckland, who earned her bachelor’s degree from CMU in May 2014. “When the parents come in, they’re so excited. One parent told me they can now have a meaningful conversation with their child.”

Buckland will complete a semester of classes this fall, followed by a semester long internship at an early childhood center in Jenison.

As an undergraduate student, senior Aubree Jenkins has an advantage over many of her peers.

The Breckenridge native was selected as one of only three undergraduate students to be part of the summer speech-language specialty clinics, where she was able to gain experience otherwise reserved for graduate students.

“I’ve gotten to learn so many things through doing reports, evaluations and working with clients,” she said. “Typically in undergraduate studies, you observe, but I’ve gotten to go way beyond that.”

Jenkins, a communication disorders major, learned the value of perseverance, especially when working with young children.

“Sometimes you don’t see progress right away or the client doesn’t like the activity you spent hours planning,” she said. “But I’ve learned to not give up and that in the end, there’s bound to be progress.”



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