Online tool filling the language gap
By Clay Schuldt
Technology continues to be a vital asset for the Caledonia Public School system. Since the start of the fall semester Caledonia Elementary has been using an online program from Speech Partners to provide students with speech lessons.
“We have several students in our district that have speech needs,” Superintendent Ben Barton said. “It’s very common; every school district across the country has students that have initial needs for speech support. We have an obligation and desire to serve all our students’ needs.”
The need for this online service presented itself when Caledonia’s former speech teacher resigned in July. For the rest of the summer the school attempted to find a replacement, but was unable to find an applicant.
“What we found is it is an increasingly difficult position to fill because speech clinicians are needed in hospitals and nursing homes,” Barton said. “It was real difficult to compete as a school district to find a speech teacher. Typically when we have a job opening we will get dozens or sometimes hundreds of applicants… This is my first experience where the tables have been turned where we are out recruiting to find applicants.”
As the school year neared Special Ed Director Simoine Bolin of Hiawatha Valley Education District suggested the district look into the online speech service providers. In recent years many rural communities have begun using online service such as Speech Partners.
With few alternatives Caledonia entered in with an agreement with Speech Partners. Barton admitted he resisted the idea at first, but the program has been working out for the school. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised and happy with the program,” he said.
The company provides assessments, treatment, consultations and instruction for schools and students with speech therapy needs. All Speech Partner’s therapists are experienced, licensed speech-language pathologists.
Each speech session requires a computer with high speed internet, a headset, webcam, printer and a phone, most of which was already available in the Caledonia district. The instructor is a real person, but they interact with the student over the computer. The online service allows for traditional teaching methods as well as using websites and games to enhance the progress.
Barton compares the sessions to Skype, with a little more sophisticated software. “You have the face to face, but then you have [icons] on the side of the screen where a teacher can ask a student to do different things.”
The Speech Partners program is not the Caledonia’s first experience where the teacher and students were in separate rooms. Last school year students were offered a course that was taught using ITV technology.
Spring Grove Principal Nancy Gulbranson was able to simultaneously teach to students in Caledonia and Fillmore Central without ever leaving Spring Grove.
The online speech sessions are simply the next step in using new advances in technology for educational purposes.
Overall, the new advances have benefited the Caledonia School District. Barton said that Speech Partners has met all the needs of the school. The district continues to search for a full-time speech teacher to have on staff, and it has solidified a part-time speech teacher for students who have difficulty working with the online program.
Barton said one thing he learned from this experience is anyone going into a career in speech therapy can write their own ticket. He encouraged anyone with a passion for speech to consider it as career path. “If you get this degree you are extremely marketable and you have a real good chance of finding a good job.”
Over 20 Caledonia students are using the Speech Partners technology in their speech sessions.