Come Read with Me at USC, a three-week summer program geared to providing literacy services to children from bilingual (English-Spanish) households who are deaf and hard of hearing, celebrated its 10-year anniversary this July.

The innovative program, part of the USC Caruso Family Center for Childhood Communication at Keck Medicine of USC, helps serve a community of learners ages 5 to 9 who face added barriers to literacy and may be underserved by traditional schooling.

“When we started the program, children in the LA area often couldn’t access summer programs that were specifically designed to foster the development of literacy skills for kids with hearing loss,” said Debra Schrader, an assistant professor of clinical otolaryngology – head and neck surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

“The fact that we’ve been able to do this for 10 years, it’s a win,” said Schrader, who has run the program since she helped create it. “It’s a win for the children, it’s a win for the families and it’s a win for all of us who are supporting them.”

Individualized literacy instruction

Hosted at the University Park Campus, Come Read with Me offers support to families from the greater Los Angeles area. During the three weeks of in-person learning, children receive lessons supporting decoding skills, reading comprehension, storytelling and writing.

According to Schrader, instructors use evidence-based strategies to support the development of these skills in addition to helping the children take their knowledge of words, letters and sounds and put their thoughts into writing.

“Written language may be emphasized during the school year, but maybe not to the degree of support that a child with hearing loss may need,” Schrader said. “They may need explicit instruction to really make those connections between oral language and putting it into print.”

Come Read with Me also serves as a training opportunity for community teachers and a pre-service training ground for future clinicians who are currently graduate students in the otolaryngology department’s speech-language pathology program.

“This is an amazing program that really highlights some of the best aspects of Keck Medicine of USC and the city of Los Angeles,” said John Oghalai, MD, chair of the USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. “Debra Schrader has worked tirelessly with faculty and trainees from multiple disciplines, the Los Angeles Unified School District, community leaders and philanthropists, and corporate partners to create and support for this program. This could only happen here, and the children and families of Los Angeles are the beneficiaries.”

 Addressing the impact of COVID-19

 Come Read with Me met the added challenge of providing vital individualized instruction in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when literacy skills faced greater disruption due to remote learning.

“It was very difficult for children with hearing loss to access instruction remotely, depending on the audio quality, the frequency of being able to respond to student and teacher comments and the amount of repetition possible in that format,” Schrader said. “These aspects are essential for developing early decoding skills.”

Schrader said that she sees an ever-greater benefit to Come Read with Me’s in-person, individualized instruction for students who spent their preschool and Kindergarten years learning remotely — and an even deeper legacy to providing parents with 12 hours of instruction in how to support their children.

“Watching parents walk away with new understandings, confidence, a level of comfort and motivation is something that we all really appreciate,” Schrader said. “Because that parent is going to be their child’s lifelong teacher.”

—Michael Juliani