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Life-Changing Communication - Student Perspectives: Danette Piantanida Bonillo

November 01, 2015 - 3 minute read

Danette Piantanida Bonillo

I come from a family of longshoremen and was the first on either side of my family to graduate from college.

As a speech therapist I have spent my career teaching children and adults to speak more effectively—expanding language, articulating better, improving social communication, and providing cognitive strategies and retraining to victims of motorcycle accidents and strokes. But my heart’s passion has always been with special needs kids, particularly those with autism. I have a strong interest in closing the gap between what kids are able to do and how they perform in school.

I often thought of getting a doctorate in education. Both my children are attending Concordia University Irvine as undergraduates and love it. My son Mitchell is in the music program and part of a phenomenal vocal choir and handbell ensemble that have traveled to Italy and Australia. He and my daughter Bre are in CUI’s amazing theatre program. Both of them are on scholarships. “Mom, you’ve been talking about going back to college,” they told me one day. “If you’re going to do it, you should do it.”

Danette Piantanida Bonillo working with children

So I attended an information night at Concordia and realized it was exactly what I was looking for. CUI has made my children feel so comfortable and educated them in such a well-rounded way. I wanted to go to a place that did education right.

When I actually applied and got in, my kids were surprised. Bre cried, as expected, and Mitchell said with some trepidation, “What if we end up in the same classes?” CUI soon became our second home. Sometimes I’ll be in the library and text them, “You guys want me to swing by and bring you a sandwich at theatre rehearsal or your dorm?” I’m sure they don’t mind.

But the transformational piece came for me when I decided to travel to China with my cohort. We went to study cultural diversity. After walking the Great Wall and Forbidden City, we journeyed to a rural area near Shanghai to help teach migrant children English. These children’s parents leave them with relatives as they seek work in the city. The kids are very poor and have no “real” toys to play with, just sticks, rocks, cups, and other basic items they turned into playthings. I was amazed at how hard the children worked to learn and speak English. Many seemed to have come to school hungry and wearing clothes from the day before. Yet they were so grateful for any type of education. As a speech therapist I value communication so highly, and to see them striving and succeeding to communicate in English moved me deeply.

I wanted to go to a place that did education right....I talk to everybody about Concordia’s phenomenal Ed.D. program.

I also was touched by how the families love these children and want to offer them a better life. It is just the way I feel about my own kids.

My heart was so moved that I have decided to do what I can to bring awareness about the migrant population in China. I already give online seminars to educators in other countries, teaching them how to educate special needs kids. I am thinking about how I can do the same for China. I also want my kids to experience what I experienced, so I hope to take them with me the next time CUI offers a China trip. As a speech therapist I think I may be able to help in a little way as these underprivileged Chinese kids work hard to make a life for themselves—just like my kids and so many students do in the U.S..

My son and I will graduate the same day from Concordia in 2017. I talk to everybody about Concordia’s phenomenal Ed.D. program. It offers such a great balance between online and in-person classes and works perfectly for people who work full-time. Every professor has been amazing and I expect the people in the program to be lifelong friends.

But my deepest impression remains those migrant children in China, doing as my family has done—seeking a better life through education.

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