Despite the prevalence of bilingual households in the United States, little research has been done about how growing up learning and speaking two languages impacts a child’s learning ability. Anny Pérez ’20, G’22 hopes to change that.
As a graduate student in speech language pathology at Syracuse University, Pérez is engaged in a research project studying bilingual children, ages 7 to 12, conducted by the Diversity in Language and Literacy Lab at the University’s Gebbie Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic. “We’re looking at how exposure to English and Spanish influences a child’s language and writing development in each language,” she says.
Pérez grew up in a bilingual household in the Bronx with parents from the Dominican Republic. After finishing a master’s degree, she plans to pursue bilingual certification so that she can practice in both Spanish and English, something she has focused on as a student. “Speech pathology is a predominantly white, female career,” says Pérez. “I’m passionate about bringing a different perspective and using my position as an Afro-Latina to support various communities.”
Pérez earned a bachelor’s degree at Syracuse, triple majoring in communication sciences and disorders, psychology and Spanish. As an undergrad, she volunteered with the Literacy Corps, tutoring in a variety of Syracuse city schools. Her experiences ranged from tutoring adolescents struggling to pass Regents Exams to working at an inclusive elementary school helping children with disabilities. As a senior, she worked at Delaware Elementary School, which had experienced an influx of students from Caribbean countries. “The school needed tutors who spoke Spanish to help students learn English and help with communication between teacher and student by translating,” she says. “It was a perfect fit.”
Pérez was also a member of the Raἰces Dance Troupe and interned at the Shaw Center, something she has continued as a graduate student. She spent spring semester of her junior year in Madrid, an experience she loved for the opportunity to engage with various identities and cultures from a different perspective. “I loved being abroad, learning each city’s history and embracing/immersing myself into the European culture through its language, literature and culture,” she says.
Becoming a licensed speech pathologist requires a master’s degree. Although Pérez explored other options, she ultimately chose to stay at Syracuse. She applied to the Our Time Has Come Scholarship program for the first time as a graduate student. “The financial and academic support has been extremely helpful,” she says. “Imposter syndrome as a grad student is a real thing. As a person of color, hearing successful alumni share how they’ve overcome obstacles is a very meaningful reminder of my own self-worth and purpose in my field.”
While the first year of her graduate program was focused on academic coursework, her second year was almost entirely experiential. Fall semester she completed an externship at Seymour Elementary School, providing speech services to bilingual students. Spring semester she had a placement at a private clinic, working with adults with Parkinson’s disease.
While she’s open to all opportunities, Pérez says she’s leaning toward a career path working with students in an educational setting. “I really do like to build a connection with clients and see their day-to-day progress,” she says.