Online Speech Therapy for Charter Schools


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Charter schools offer diverse learning opportunities and instructional approaches, but as in mainstream schools, all students must have access to special education services, including speech-language therapy.

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Online Speech Therapy for Charter Schools

  1. 1. A Forum for School Leaders© PresenceLearning, Inc. All Rights Reserved.580 Market Street, 6th Floor San Francisco, CA 94104 | 1new realitiesnew choicesONLINE SPEECH THERAPY FOR CHARTER SCHOOLSShari Robertson, PhD, CCC-SLPJoe Pacheco, Director of Student Services at Leadership Public SchoolsShawn Whitney, Director of Special Education, Edison Charter AcademyI am sure it is no surprise to you that the number of students enrolled in charter schools issoaring. In fact, over the past several years we have seen exponential growth. In the last de-cade, the number of students enrolled in public charter schools has more than quadrupledfrom 300,000 to 1.6 million. In 2010, five percent of all public schools were charter schools.Many charter schools have an informal reputation as a haven for children with special needs.Certainly the needs of charter schools for special education services is at least as great as inthe conventional public schools, but many think the need is greater. Effective inclusion forstudents with special needs is a particular strength with many charter schools because theyprovide innovative learning opportunities.Founders of charter schools use unconventional approaches to curriculum, but they have tostay within the law as well. So, special education is sometimes a square peg in a round holethat we need to fill in a different way. Most advocates agree that in order to address theirstudent’s needs, charter schools will need to provide special education services in new anddifferent ways.As the data shows, we have growing enrollment in charter schools and innovative approach-es to serving students. At the same time, there is a growing demand for speech languagetherapy to serve charter school students, and a number of issues that are impacting the de-livery of these services. Charter school leaders are painfully aware of challenges they sharewith traditional school districts. Among these are the critical shortage of qualified SLPs andthe need for more flexible scheduling to be able to meet individual needs of a diverse groupof students.Charter schools have unique challenges delivering special education services, but they alsohave some opportunities. Eddie Goodall, who leads the North Carolina Charter School As-sociation, put it this way. “We have some special challenges. The cost for special educationservices can’t be shared among a large population. Scalability is an issue for our charters.We need a broader network of professionals to enable us to deliver service to a diversestudent population when they need it, but our charter schools also have an opportunity tocollaborate and to share special education costs and resources.”INTRODUCTION: THE COMMON CORE AND THE SLPBy Shari Robertson, PhD, CCC-SLP
  2. 2. A Forum for School Leaders© PresenceLearning, Inc. All Rights Reserved.580 Market Street, 6th Floor San Francisco, CA 94104 | 2new realitiesnew choicesRobin Lake, who leads the Center on Reinventing Public Education, has been studyingspecial education in charter schools for the last two years. She is the author of a great newbook on this topic, Unique Schools Serving Unique Students. We asked her for her perspec-tive on the interest in online speech therapy for charters. Robin said, “We recognize the pos-itive impact that charters can have on the entire field of special education, to experiment,to innovate and advance the knowledge of new approaches for helping exceptional childrensucceed.”In addition to the perspective of these two national experts, we also have the view of twocharter school special education administrators. Joe Pacheco, of California-based Leader-ship Public Schools says because they operate charter high schools in four geographic areasapproximately 50 miles apart, it has been a real challenge to find added coverage for ser-vices they need. Joe and his team looked to the use of online speech therapy services as away of dealing with the geographic issues.Shawn Whitney, who oversees special education at Edison Charter Academy in San Francis-co, says because they have just one site and a relatively small number of students in needof speech and language services, it is difficult to find a service provider willing to work justa couple days a week. That situation prompted Shawn to start looking “outside the box” toget the best services for her students. Right now, using online speech therapy is doing won-ders for them.School administrators know that when it comes to implementing new technology, especiallyin an educational setting, there are four areas that we have to pay attention to. First of all,we need to train the staff and the users. We need to train them both in the use of the tech-nology and then also about the program itself. Secondly, we have to think about the tech-nology. The technology has to work and it has to be set up correctly. Third, there has to besupport available, because we know technology doesn’t always work the way we want it to.Finally, we have to think about the set-up -- the physical location and the educational tech-nology -- and how they all work together. We need to consider how we put it all together tomake the online experience most beneficial to our students.Let’s explore the experience of two special education leaders at charter schools who haveimplemented online speech language therapy. For Shawn Whitney of Edison Charter Acad-emy, the technology was the difficult start-up hurdle because her school had a very slowInternet connection. When she started the online service last year, they experienced delaysbetween what the speech therapists were saying and what the students were hearing. Theyworked with the tech department and got some grant funding that enabled them to in-crease the Internet speed and now are having wonderful results.ONLINE SPEECH THERAPY FOR CHARTER SCHOOLS:A FRONTLINE PERSPECTIVEBy Joe Pacheco, Leadership Public Schools and Shawn Whitney, Edison CharterAcademy
  3. 3. A Forum for School Leaders© PresenceLearning, Inc. All Rights Reserved.580 Market Street, 6th Floor San Francisco, CA 94104 | 3new realitiesnew choicesAnother struggle for Shawn when her school was beginning to implement online therapywas getting the kids to and from class to the room that is set up for online therapy. “Forsafety reasons, we don’t allow the kindergartners through third grade to be on campus bythemselves, so we had a hard time monitoring the transition during the first year of us-ing the online service,” she said. They hired a part-time staff member who is at the schoolMonday, Wednesday, Friday, the same days as the online services are being provided. As aresult, everything has been very smooth.Joe Pacheco also had some struggles with Internet speed. After upgrading their network(what did this involve? New equipment or a call to the provider?) they have had no prob-lems at all with the technology. For his staff and students, very little training was needed.Joe says, “The system is so simple to operate and high school students receiving onlinespeech language therapy are so familiar with technology that they are the ones who trainthe staff how to use it.” They have been able to schedule a lot of their students who arereceiving online services into a guided studies class. And since many them are also re-search (resource?) specialist students, they have them scheduled into a class that coincideswith their placements. This facilitates them moving from place to place without difficulty.Joe says that logistics will be the main issue for people to consider when they are comingaboard with online speech therapy.Shawn agrees that logistics can be a challenge. “Scheduling services can be difficult whenyou are working with a large number of teachers,” she says, “Communication between thespeech language therapist and the school staff is the solution.”Both Joe and Shawn have seen the ease-of-use of the technology evolving. And, as locationissues are solved and their students become more comfortable with the process of going tothe service, they expect things are going to get even better.Charter school administrators have a number of questions about how online speech therapyis integrated with general education and the staff. How does the remote online SLP fit in andbecome an active part of the IEP team? How can you mix online speech therapy with thegeneral curriculum? How do we involve parents and teachers and keep the online servicefrom being its own separate entity?Joe Pacheco reports that the online SLPs that serve their charter school students have beenvery successful using email to engage the general staff, the classroom teacher and otherinstructional staff. The SLP also communicates via email and phone with the resource spe-cialist. They all have a very good working relationship with the online SLP.Shawn agrees. The online SLP that works with her students uses email and also calls andspeaks to teachers, especially the newer teachers. At Edison Charter Academy, they havequite a few first year teachers on campus who have many questions on how to supportstudents with speech and language issues. “The online SLP is always willing to spend sometime on the phone and sends activities that follow up on the services provided during theonline session,” Shawn says. “The remote SLP uses email to send follow-up activities to theteachers and often times to the parents as well.”
  4. 4. A Forum for School Leaders© PresenceLearning, Inc. All Rights Reserved.580 Market Street, 6th Floor San Francisco, CA 94104 | 4new realitiesnew choicesAt Edison Charter Academy they have the RTI (response to intervention) component andqualified tutors in that program piggyback on activities done during online speech therapy.Some students spend 5-10 extra minutes during the RTI time working on speech-relatedactivities provided by the online therapist.School administrators considering any new approach, especially something that is as im-portant as speech language services, appreciate peer advice. We all want to avoid prob-lems and get up to speed smoothly. Shawn again reflects and provides advice regardingtransition needs, wishing she had been better prepared. She doesn’t see this as a problemfor older students. For grades 4-8 they provide passes to the teachers and the kids cometo services on time and there is no issue. For kindergarten to third grade students, gettingthem to and from the online services room was difficult at first, and as a result, they missedsome services. But now with the extra part-time staff to assist, things are going well. Theother advice from Shawn is to address scheduling as soon as possible, ideally before schoolstarts and to have a schedule worked out at least a week in advance.Joe says that his students have been very comfortable with the service. He had one studentwho was embarrassed about having online speech therapy; but when Joe had a conversa-tion with him about his concern, the student said he didn’t like going to see the live thera-pist either. Joe is using a live SLP at some sites and online therapists at others, and whencomparing the use of one to the other he finds that they are both excellent in providingservice and he says, “It just comes down to a matter of availability, money and logistics!”
  5. 5. A Forum for School Leaders© PresenceLearning, Inc. All Rights Reserved.580 Market Street, 6th Floor San Francisco, CA 94104 | 5new realitiesnew choicesAbout The AuthorsShari Robertson, PhD, CCC-SLP is a Professor of Speech-Language Pathology and Dean’sAssociate for Graduate Studies and Research at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She hastaught undergraduate and graduate coursework in language development and disorders,phonology, counseling, literacy, and clinical experiences for 15 years. Dr. Robertson has beenan ASHA member for thirty years and is a two-term past-president of the PennsylvaniaSpeech-Language-Hearing Association. Dr. Robertson is a well-known speaker on a varietyof topics across the country and internationally, including as an invited presenter at numer-ous ASHA Conventions, ASHA Schools Conferences, and ASHA Health Care/Business Insti-tutes.Shari Robertson, PhD, CCC-SLPJoe Pacheco is the Director of Student Services at Leadership Public Schools. Prior to hisrole as Director of Student Services for California-based Leadership Public Schools, Mr.Pacheco was Principal of LPS Campbell High School. Among administrative positions hehas held for public schools, Joe was Program Specialist for Special Education for the San-ta Clara County Office of Education. He also served in the Oak Grove School District for 12years as a Speech and Language Pathologist. He received his undergraduate degree fromSan Jose State University and his Master’s in School Administration from the University ofSan Francisco.Joe Pacheco, Director of Student Services at Leadership PublicShawn Whitney is the Director of Special Education at Edison Charter Academy. Shawnjoined Edison Charter Academy in 2010 after ten years of teaching, including five yearsteaching students with learning differences and emotional disturbances at an Arizona highschool. She holds a Bachelor’s of Elementary and Special Education from Northern ArizonaUniversity and a Master’s Degree in Secondary Education from the University of Phoenix.Shawn Whitney, Director of Special EducationEdison Charter Academy
  6. 6. A Forum for School Leaders© PresenceLearning, Inc. All Rights Reserved.580 Market Street, 6th Floor San Francisco, CA 94104 | 6new realitiesnew choicesAt PresenceLearning, we love to see children thrive, which is why we are making thepromise of live online speech therapy (sometimes called telepractice) come true.With the ongoing shortage of SLPs (speech language pathologists) and budget pressuresin school districts reaching crisis proportions, innovative modes of delivery have becomeessential for giving children the speech therapy services they need.A large and growing body of research, starting with a seminal study by the Mayo Clinic in1997, demonstrates that live online speech therapy is just as effective as face-to-face therapy.Our mission is to make live online speech therapy practical, affordable and convenient whileproviding an extraordinary therapy experience for each child. The PresenceLearning solutionincludes:• access to our large and growing network of top-notch SLPs• the latest video-conferencing technology• the most engaging games and evidence-based activities• time-saving collaboration and practice management tools targeting SLPs and educatorsJoin the growing group of SLPs, educators and parents committed to seeing children thriveas part of the online speech therapy revolution.About SPED AheadAbout PresenceLearningSPED Ahead is an opportunity for school administrators and special education specialists tocatalyze discussions about new ideas and promising practices that help exceptionalstudents achieve. With a series of free interactive online events and related multimedia web-based resources, we will explore answers to tough questions and shape effective leadershipstrategies for addressing special needs students’ challenges for literacy skills, scholasticachievement and peer relationships.