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Online Speech Therapy for Virtual Schools
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Special education services, including speech-language therapy, must be available to all students, including those who attend online schools. Meeting this need is an ongoing challenge facing Special ...

Special education services, including speech-language therapy, must be available to all students, including those who attend online schools. Meeting this need is an ongoing challenge facing Special Education Directors for virtual schools.

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Online Speech Therapy for Virtual Schools Document Transcript

  • 1. A Forum for School Leaders© PresenceLearning, Inc. All Rights Reserved.580 Market Street, 6th Floor San Francisco, CA 94104 | www.presencelearning.com 1new realitiesnew choicesONLINE SPEECH THERAPY FOR VIRTUAL SCHOOLSShari Robertson, PhD, CCC-SLPJenny Kendall, M.A., B.S.I’m sure it is no surprise to you that the number of students enrolled in virtual schools isabsolutely soaring, but you might be surprised at how fast. The most recent data related tothe number of states that have enrollment in virtual schools and online courses shows over ahalf million students as of a year ago and the growth rate is about 20%. There is also steadygrowth in online charter schools. In 2011 there were 250,000 full time students enrolled invirtual schools. Compare that to just 40,000 in 2002.We are all feeling the growing need for special education services for the online studentpopulation. While there is no national data currently available, Pennsylvania’s departmentof education reports that 12% of their online students need special education services. Weknow that there will be continued growth in the number of students with disabilities enroll-ing in online schools.Currently, the legal framework of IDEA does not specifically address special education ser-vices that are to be provided in a virtual environment. However, we believe it is likely thatnew policies will be put in place with the next reauthorization of that particular law. It is alsoclear that the federal government has taken note of these trends and it is investing in bestpractices in the delivery of special education services online, including speech languagetherapy. For instance, less than a year ago the federal government awarded a grant to theNational State Directors of Special Education to establish a center for online learning andstudents with disabilities. This is a new initiative within the Center for Research on Learningat the University of Kansas.The growing enrollment in online programs isn’t the only thing driving demand for speechlanguage services. In fact, there are a number of issues impacting the delivery of theseservices, including a critical shortage of qualified Speech Language Pathologists, an ongo-ing issue, regardless of the venue. So online delivery of these critical services is one way toalleviate some of these issues, so that children can receive appropriate services no matterwhere they live or where they are getting their educational experiences.INTRODUCTION TO SPECIAL EDUCATION SERVICES FOR VIRTUALSCHOOLSBy Shari Robertson, PhD, CCC-SLP
  • 2. A Forum for School Leaders© PresenceLearning, Inc. All Rights Reserved.580 Market Street, 6th Floor San Francisco, CA 94104 | www.presencelearning.com 2new realitiesnew choicesWhat is online speech therapy? It might seem obvious to you, but you would be surprised athow often this question is asked, even by educators who deliver online instruction. It workslike other online instruction, using telecommunications technology to deliver speech lan-guage services from a distance. But, the big question most people have, even if they workin a virtual school environment and are comfortable with online learning, is whether speechlanguage services provided remotely, online are effective. In fact, online speech languagetherapy is becoming a very well accepted method to deliver speech language services tostudents who attend virtual schools. This report will give you one special education direc-tor’s view from the front line, so to speak, because as you know, the implementation of anynew program has its twists and turns and its challenges. We asked Jenny Kendall, a specialeducation and virtual school expert, to share her experience integrating online speech lan-guage therapy with the online instructional environment. Jenny currently oversees specialeducation for K12 Inc. for 26 virtual academies. She has 20 years of experience with specialeducation and ten years of that with virtual schools.I am excited to share my history with online speech language therapy and to provide youwith tips and tricks from my first-hand experience. But first, let me tell you about K12, thecompany I work for. K12 started in 2000 and I joined the company shortly after that. Weoffer K12 curriculum online, supported with text material and manipulatives. We have 26statewide virtual academies. At last count, 11.9% of our student population has disabilities.Some schools have a higher percentage and others may have a smaller or lower percentage,but on average 11.9% of our population are students with disabilities. We have students withtraumatic brain injuries, autism, cognitive disabilities, multiple handicaps, visually and hear-ing impaired. So we have students with needs across the board and at all of our statewidevirtual academies.Students are enrolled in K12 schools for a variety of reasons, and it is our job to meet theirneeds and figure out how we can take those wonderful regulations that define our basic ser-vices, that being IDEA, and find a grey in the language that can apply to the virtual settingthat we all live and work in.I began my career as a speech and language therapist and fell in love with serving studentswith disabilities. I went back to school and became a special education teacher, and thenyears after being a special education teacher, I moved to one of the first statewide virtualacademies. I was kind of a one-man band, providing instruction, leadership and guidance. Ibegan serving as the special education director at the school. Now I am the national direc-tor of special programs for K12, and we have got quite a few schools across the country andquite a few different options.ONLINE SPEECH THERAPY: A FRONTLINE PERSPECTIVEBy Jenny Kendall, National Director of Special Programs, K12 Inc.
  • 3. A Forum for School Leaders© PresenceLearning, Inc. All Rights Reserved.580 Market Street, 6th Floor San Francisco, CA 94104 | www.presencelearning.com 3new realitiesnew choicesI began using online speech and language therapy in 2004 when I started one of the firststatewide virtual academies. It was quite a challenge to find therapists as the school grew,especially in remote corners of the state. It was tough to have families drive long distanc-es to get to therapy sessions, and there were weather issues. At that time, there were oneor two providers that began to delve into the world of speech language telepractice. Theclassroom was completely different then compared to how it has evolved today. For familiesthat join our schools now or have joined our schools in the past few years, online is com-monplace. So now it is more commonplace and with new families it is part of our messageon the front end and just the general acceptance of this nationwide. They expect us to saywe are going to provide speech language therapy through telepractice.But it wasn’t commonplace for our families that began using online therapy way back in2004 who were used to driving to the therapy agency. For them, we had to say, let’s showyou how it can work and take you through a guidance session; let’s talk to your existingtherapist and see what she/he thinks.When we first began delivering online speech language therapy, there were some chal-lenges and hurdles with the technology. In 2004, web-based conferencing tools were notso common. There were some downloads that had to be installed on computers. The re-sponsible teaching adult or learning coach in the home had to install these products. Andwhen they don’t know how to do it, they would call the online or the telepractice provider,and that provider would talk them through how to install whatever the product is that theyneeded to install. They billed the school because they provided support and service. As aresult, for the student who needed 30 minutes of therapy a week, it took the learning coachthree hours and multiple phone calls to do the installation of different products. It got reallyexpensive since that 30-minute speech therapy session turned into four hours that I paid for.That was the experience years and years ago. But now, there is better familiarity with tech-nology across the board, from our learning coaches as well as telepractice providers, andthere is a lot more support. The products come with white pages that tell us how to install,and there are pretty pictures with step-by-step instructions that explain what to do and ifit’s not working. This alleviates a lot of the technical issues for start up.Some other problems that we had were more provider-based. Going back eight or nineyears, there weren’t recording sessions and the progress monitoring tools were not asstrong as they are today. When and if there was a legal situation, we may not have had theproof or the validation that the therapy was provided and that it was effective.So things have certainly changed over the years and they have been really positive. We arenot seeing hours and hours of technology issues. The platforms that providers such as Pres-enceLearning use are so strong and so fantastic that we just don’t see the technology issuesand we see a benefit to the therapy that the students receive.
  • 4. A Forum for School Leaders© PresenceLearning, Inc. All Rights Reserved.580 Market Street, 6th Floor San Francisco, CA 94104 | www.presencelearning.com 4new realitiesnew choicesWhen it comes to progress monitoring tools, I have no concern and would have no problemstepping into one of those process cases knowing that I have backups of the therapy of ev-ery session of every student’s progress. I am very confident in the progress monitoring toolsthat are available in online platforms today.What about buy-in for online speech therapy? Way back when, it took some time to get thestaff on board. Now, it is commonplace and I think what is so helpful to everybody enteringa virtual school is watching the live therapy sessions with students or the recorded sessionsof live sessions with students. You can get a really good feel of what online speech therapylooks like and feels like. You can also play around with the tools. I think that helps anyonenew to online therapy and to get peers accepting and buying in.When you are looking at establishing relationships with a telepractice agency, you will wantto be clear about your expectations of that provider. Ask them how long they’ve been inbusiness and what kinds of data they have. Ask them if you can try out their platform. Askthem tough questions about how they monitor progress. Be sure you have a contract thatdefines your expectations and your hopes for quality, progress and service for your stu-dents.The other thing that I think is hugely important to success with online speech therapy iscommunication and collaboration. What we have done is to work with large therapy agen-cies, not just to provide telepractice, but also to have meetings from my level to the CEO ofthe company. We talk about what we are seeing globally, across the board at all of the K12schools, how can we work together, how can we can improve. There needs to be commu-nication from the special education teacher, the speech language therapist, to the learningcoach, and really anybody who is involved in the student’s education. The therapist is thekey member of the team, not an exclusive member that joins for 30 minutes once a weekand provides therapy for the students and then walks away. The therapist is part of the IEPteam and is involved in progress monitoring across the board.How can we better involve our online speech language pathologists into the academic realmof what the students do day-in and day-out? Part of the answer is preparing the therapistfor your school and your model of education, but particularly those in the field of specialeducation. We have a lot of lingo and language that is specific for special education, butthen we also have lingo and language that is specific for our particular school setting. I saythings like OLS -- Online Learning Schools. In the curricular area, we have something calledGUM --Grammar Usage and Mechanics. But if I say gum you might be thinking of chewinggum like Trident, so we need to make sure our therapists are familiar with our language andour platform.
  • 5. A Forum for School Leaders© PresenceLearning, Inc. All Rights Reserved.580 Market Street, 6th Floor San Francisco, CA 94104 | www.presencelearning.com 5new realitiesnew choicesWe also have to provide support to the therapy agency, making sure that parent and stu-dent and the learning coach have an introduction to the therapy in the platform and to thetherapist to be a part of that guiding process and really establish communication. Be veryclear about how often we are going to talk about the therapy and what are we going to talkabout. Be sure that if there is a problem with the speech and language therapy platform,that solving the problem isn’t just between the learning coach and the therapist. The schoolneeds to be involved too. If there is a problem and the learning coach and students are notmeeting as expected for sessions, that is not just between the learning coach and the ther-apist, that the school and the IEP team in aware and involved. It is not a 2:1 kind of ratio.Success depends on a team working together and establishing clear lines of communication.In the virtual school, the responsibility for writing an IEP and for managing IEP meetingslooks a little bit different school to school. Primarily we use a web-based conferencing tool.The student’s IEP is pulled up on the screen and all parties are in attendance, including thetherapist. Yes, the online speech language therapist is actually a part of that team and is re-quired to be in attendance. It is a great time for the team to look at a student’s progress andanswer questions. The IEP is typically an annual document but hopefully it is reviewed on aquarterly basis on the same platform. It is important to give the team time to talk togetherto see how they can work together to meet the student’s needs.Scheduling students in the online environment is so much more flexible than the “old way”and when I say scheduling, it’s about the face-to-face component. Online delivery leads toflexibility. The therapy is based on a time that works for the therapist and the family and thestudent, so it is much more wide open than the traditional therapy. One of the best benefitsof using online speech therapy is the flexibility of scheduling. The therapist that we workwith from PresenceLearning and other agencies are fantastic. The many windows of time fortherapy means students in our virtual environment are not pulled away from their generaleducation and special education teachers. It means less transportation time and more timefor students to work on academics and therapy. I couldn’t rave more about the flexibility inscheduling.Sometimes I’m asked if our students get to express their preference regarding having onlineintervention versus live therapy. I think any decision in regard to what would be developedin an IEP is an IEP team decision and the student is definitely a part of that team. The stu-dent’s ability to vocalize their wants and needs vary student by student, but the student isdefinitely a part of that team. If our students express what they need, the school will workwith the students and the family to honor that request. Ultimately it is an IEP decision, withthe student being a key part of that team. There are times that face-to-face therapy is stillwarranted and necessary so it is really based on the needs of the students, the leader whodrives that.
  • 6. A Forum for School Leaders© PresenceLearning, Inc. All Rights Reserved.580 Market Street, 6th Floor San Francisco, CA 94104 | www.presencelearning.com 6new realitiesnew choicesOver the years we have had a few parents who did not want to be involved in online speechtherapy services. A lot of times we were able to overcome this by introducing this methodslowly, continuing the conversation. We promise the family and the student that they can tryonline therapy and talk about it and explore it, and can agree that it may be the best prac-tice. But, if it doesn’t work, we need to go back and reconsider, so keeping that open line ofcommunication is critical. I have had a few parents that were slow to move, but in most cas-es, the movement occurred in a couple years and the families are now very satisfied with thetelepractice. Sometimes it just takes time and really showing families that you are there towork with them and promising that we will work through it, and if the online therapy doesn’twork, we can go right back to where we were with the traditional approach.
  • 7. A Forum for School Leaders© PresenceLearning, Inc. All Rights Reserved.580 Market Street, 6th Floor San Francisco, CA 94104 | www.presencelearning.com 7new 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-SLPJenny Kendall is National Director of Special Programs for K12 Inc. She oversees special edu-cation, Federal Title programs, RTI and more across 26 statewide virtual academies and ad-ditional unique blended learning environments. She was previously the Director of SpecialEducation for the Ohio Virtual Academy, a school powered by K12. Ms. Kendall has workedin the field of virtual education for over ten years and the field of special education for overtwenty years.Jenny Kendall, National Director of Special Education Programs for K12 Inc.
  • 8. A Forum for School Leaders© PresenceLearning, Inc. All Rights Reserved.580 Market Street, 6th Floor San Francisco, CA 94104 | www.presencelearning.com 8new 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.