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Students learn clinical—and charitable—practice out in the community

Michelle Jones
has a way with words. The speech-language pathologist, a clinical instructor in the Speech, Language, and Learning Clinic, has devoted her career to helping children find their voices. She works with them to help them navigate and overcome all sorts of communicative impairments, including stuttering, articulation and phonological disorders, and language delays.

Jones originally thought she would go in to deaf education, but she fell in love with the speech and language classes she took as an undergrad—so much so that she went on to get her master of arts—and today she helps guide graduate students who are pursuing that same degree within the School of Communication’s Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

Every Tuesday, Jones takes four of these students down to Chicago’s St. Vincent de Paul Center, a non-profit that serves the needs of Chicago’s working poor. The center provides social services, outreach to the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless, and services for the elderly. They also provide child development programs, including early childhood education and pre-kindergarten daycare.

Under her supervision, the students provide one-on-one speech and language therapy to children at the center. “The majority of them are four-year-olds,” Jones said. “We work primarily on receptive and expressive language. There are also a couple of kids who have either phonological or other speech-sound disorders, so we work on speech production with them.”

Thanks to a generous donor at St. Vincent’s, as well as the significantly reduced rates Northwestern’s clinic was able to offer, the children are receiving free therapy from some promising clinicians-in-training. “Some of these kids have never received these services before,” Jones said, “so it’s been very rewarding to see a child who was hardly speaking, for example, start speaking in full sentences and interacting with their peers in the classroom.”

The graduate students, too, are learning new things. “St. Vincent’s offers a completely different atmosphere,” Jones said. “We’re not in a clinic, and so that’s very instructive. And, in some cases, our students are working with kids from a very different socio-economic background than they are used to, which is critical to be able to know how to do when you work in this field.”

Even Jones herself, the seasoned veteran, has learned a few things. “I think what I’ve taken away more than anything is what an amazing job social workers do,” she said. (A call from a social worker at St. Vincent de Paul is what initially sparked the idea for the collaboration, close to four years ago. “They said they had a donor who was willing to give them money,” Jones explained. “They just needed services.”)

Now, services rendered, Jones finds herself working in close contact with another social worker at the center. “The ones I’ve met at St. Vincent’s are just incredible,” she said.

For more information on this and other programs affiliated with the Speech, Language and Learning Clinic, please visit