Speech-Language Pathology Student's Advocacy Efforts Pay Off
By Tim Meehan
It was during her first year as an undergraduate student at Cal State San Marcos when Ayesha James heard a story from a professor about a recent incident in which an elementary school-aged child was not allowed to bring their loaned Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) device home with them over summer break since it was considered school property.
James felt moved by the story but powerless to make an impact.
“This really bothered me because essentially this was their voice being left behind,” James said. “To some degree it was as if their voice didn’t belong to them and the idea of it being stripped away from them did not sit well with me. This caused me to ask questions, do research and explore this situation further.”
Last summer, Laura Coca, the director of clinical education in the department of speech-language pathology (SLP), presented a challenge to graduate students to advocate for something they were passionate about.
Now in her second year of CSUSM’s SLP graduate program, James decided to take that challenge head on. She chose to write advocacy letters to various agencies in support of K-12 students with communicative disorders.
James’ letter explained how without these devices, students are unable to communicate their basic wants and needs, ideas, and it prevents them from participating in social interactions. She wrote about how going long periods of time without their device prevents them from making personal and academic progress.
Her proposal called for districts to allow these students to take their AAC devices home during all school breaks.
The response she received from San Diego Unified School District was a positive one. After meeting with James in person, the district was clearly impressed. A new policy is being drafted currently and the expectation is that it will be in place soon.
“Now that I felt better equipped, had the support from faculty and realized that no change has been made since 2019, I thought that I had to be the one to get this ball rolling,” James said. “I am currently working with four elementary school students who use AAC devices as their primary form of communication and I couldn’t imagine them not having access to a device for a long period of time. This should be a concern for everyone.”
This new policy will allow district students to take home their loaned devices with them over school breaks regardless of whether or not it is specifically stated in their Individualized Educational Plan (IEP).
As long as the student is enrolled through the district, the AAC device will stay with them across grade levels. Parents and students will no longer have to worry about not having access to a device at home if they don’t already have one.
James knew at a young age she wanted to work in education. She became interested in SLP after shadowing a professional in the field and “observing all the wonderful work she was doing for her students.”
After graduating from CSUSM with a bachelor’s degree in SLP, it was an easy decision to continue her passion on campus. She points to the supportive faculty and staff as the main reason for remaining at CSUSM.
“Sue Moineau, our program director and my academic adviser, has always been such a role model to me,” James said. “She has always been so supportive and provided me with words of encouragement when I needed it the most. (Coca) is someone I was fortunate enough to learn from. The care and compassion she has for our clients and students is inspirational. I am extremely grateful that she provided this opportunity for us students to have our voices heard and encourage us to advocate for those who can’t for themselves. This was a wonderful experience and opportunity. I am incredibly grateful and humbled by this experience.”
As for the future, James will graduate in May and plans to work as a school-based SLP at a middle school or high school.
Like many CSUSM students, she is looking to have a positive impact on the community she serves.
One thing is for certain – she will continue to advocate for students who don’t have a voice at the level it matters most.
“Hopefully have this policy be one that is made in all school districts,” said James of her goal. “I have already reached out to other school districts and will hopefully hear from them soon. I hope to continue volunteering and providing my services to underserved communities in other countries. Perhaps in the future I will continue my education and obtain a Ph.D.”
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
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