Work experience with a difference

27 March 2012

Two UC students were given a unique opportunity to do their Bachelor of Speech and Language Therapy work placement on a Native Indian reservation in America.

Two UC students were given a unique opportunity to do their Bachelor of Speech and Language Therapy work placement on a Native Indian reservation in America. 

Katrina Aitken and Jane McKinnon completed their placement at Navajo Nation, Red Mesa, Arizona, USA. The Navajo Nation is a semi-autonomous Native American-governed territory occupying all of north eastern Arizona, the south eastern portion of Utah, and north western New Mexico. It is the largest land area assigned primarily to a Native American jurisdiction within the United States.

Katrina and Jane worked three days a week at Red Mesa Elementary School seeing children for speech and language therapy sessions and did some home visits for preschoolers and visited other schools in the area on other days.

“There was a lot of variety - we saw children with all sorts of speech and language impairments, and it was really interesting and challenging to work with a bilingual culture in such a remote area,” said Jane.

“The children were all really lovely. It is a contrast from New Zealand where children don’t always want to participate in sessions - here all the kids wanted to come to therapy because they see it as fun and I suppose it’s a bit different,” she said.

“I have also found it interesting to be somewhere where people found me hard to understand because of my accent. I had to remember to speak slowly and to “Americanise” my pronunciation, for example garage and tomato.”

 Jane said that she found it challenging to see the conditions on the Reservation as people didn’t have a lot of money and there are a lot of social problems including unemployment and poor health.

“It was been challenging, but also fun. I have enjoyed the practical component which involves working with clients and the course has prepared us very well,” she said.

 “This experience at the Reservation has helped me to appreciate the quality of the course that we have at Canterbury as I was quite well prepared in terms of the clinical skills required.”

 Katrina while on her placement worked on articulation errors, expressive language, receptive language, auditory processing disorder, and emergent literacy.

 “I loved working with the children, but was difficult at times because the children we worked with were non-dominant in English or Navajo and while on placement we implemented an Emergent Literacy Programme to do shared reading with a number of children identified by their teachers as struggling with reading.”

Katrina says it was very different to the clinical practice than what she would have done in New Zealand “for one, case loads in New Zealand are smaller so there is no need for group therapy. In New Zealand, group therapy is chosen if it is believed that the client would benefit from the social and vicarious learning experience.”

Living and working on the reservation was almost like being in a third world country says Katrina where many children’s homes did not have power or running water.

“The only paved road is the main highway which made home visits after snow and rain interesting.

“Because the closest town is an hour away from Red Mesa, most people rely on the trading posts for food and groceries so many children also have poor diets.”

Katrina completed a Bachelor of Arts majoring Psychology after finishing High School and felt that she hadn’t found her niche. She worked with a student enrolled in the Speech-Language Therapy Degree part-time and became interested by listening to her experiences.

Having this work placement experience has not only been extremely worthwhile but also fun.

“While we were in Mexico (Puerto Vallarta) with our supervisor we went to a school to complete hearing screenings on children to identify those who require hearing assessments. This was interesting because the children we were screening did not speak English so we had to give instructions by gesture and the limited Spanish that we had (please, thank you and beautiful). Despite this, we got through all of the students that needed screening and were able to identify children who required further assessment. “






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