The first to receive a Ph.D. in speech-language pathology from the Ammon School of Education, Dr. Nwosu works with speech- and hearing-impaired children at P.S. 69 in Queens.

by Cecil Harris

Nellyzita NwosuHardly a melting pot, New York City is more of a patchwork quilt of ethnicities that forms a unique and sometimes beautiful mosaic. In perhaps no other neighborhood is that mosaic more enthusiastically displayed than in the Jackson Heights section of Queens, where Nellyzita Nwosu—the first to earn the Ph.D. in speech-language pathology in the Ammon School of Education’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders—works with speech- and hearing-impaired children at P.S. 69.

Some 20 different languages are represented in the student body at P.S. 69, said Dr. Nwosu, listing among them Polish, Mandarin, Japanese, Vietnamese, Bengali, Urdu, Spanish, Portuguese, English and “black English.” In 15 years in the profession, including the past 10 years at P.S. 69, she has acquired a working knowledge of multiple languages and dialects. The Floral Park, New York, resident is fluent in English and Igbo, languages spoken in her native country, Nigeria.

“I saw a statistic that only six percent of speech-language pathologists are linguistically diverse,” she said. “ASHA [the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association] knows that there is a great need for more speech-language pathologists who are bilingual and multicultural. More students need to become interested in this field so multicultural children can be better served.

“A lot of children who are bilingual or from cultures that teachers are not familiar with are sent to special education, and then they’re stigmatized as special-ed kids. There are standardized tests that those kids do poorly on, but in fact the child is bilingual and may be just mixing up words. As an educator, I intentionally went to P.S. 69 because it is so ethnically diverse. That’s the community I wanted to serve because there are so many different puzzles to solve.”

After earning degrees at Binghamton University and Syracuse University, she pursued a doctoral degree at Adelphi because the part-time program enabled the married mother of two sons to continue working full time. (The Ph.D. program at the City University of New York requires students to enroll full time.)

“Adelphi’s program has a clinical focus, and I realized the importance of doing research to prove there was a need for more bilingual and multicultural educators in our field,” said Dr. Nwosu, who worked with faculty advisers Elaine Sands, Ph.D., and Reem Khamis-Dakwar, Ph.D., on her dissertation: “The Effect of Specific Training for Preparing Speech and Language Providers Who Service Children from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds.”

P.S. 69 is one public school in one building, unburdened by any public school vs. charter school turf wars. Instead, the ongoing challenge for Dr. Nwosu is in finding more practitioners like herself to work with multicultural children at a time when over reliance on standardized test scores can lead to misdiagnosing a child’s capacity to learn.

This piece appeared in AU VU, Fall 2014 issue.

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