father and son working in notebook

This article is part of a series about how IMESD Departments have adapted their work during the COVID-19 emergency.

Worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things about the ways people work. In the ESD’s Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) Department, delivering services to students remotely has come with challenges and silver linings.

According to Tonya Smith, Director of the SLP Department, their staff is working hard to deliver supplementary materials and do consultation and direct instruction to students and families in coordination with the districts they serve. Whenever possible, staff use the same platform that the district being served uses. If that is not feasible, staff works with the IT Department to ensure they are using platforms that are FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) compliant. They have also worked with families to provide equipment and technology for students who require it to access their education from home.

Is it working well? Smith said yes. “Our connections with families have strengthened in many cases. Working with students and families using their tools at home has been interesting and rewarding! We are learning a great deal about effective distance learning and are poised well to serve this coming school year, regardless of what the modality may be,” Smith said.

One challenge of working in this new way is keeping connected to each other as a staff. Plus, Smith said, there are some students they have not been able to contact, and the bottom line is “We miss our kids!”. Speech-Language Pathologists are itinerant staff who work across multiple districts; even before COVID-19, they may be required to fulfill different expectations in each district, which can be challenging.

What are families receiving SLP services saying? Smith said her staff can see that families are tired. Speech-Language services are provided in addition to what is expected through general education, and so students served often have longer days and more expectations than the general population. Smith said some parents are really happy with the services and some are struggling.

But her staff continues to impress her. “They have risen to the challenging of providing services in a completely different way very quickly and are so collaborative and supportive of each other. The information flowing in this group is inspirational, and they have really taken the bull by the horns in order to do what’s best for children and families. I am very proud of them!”