By Clay Whitehead, Co-founder of PresenceLearning

In the face of continuing budget and staffing challenges, many districts are finding that live online speech therapy (or telepractice) helps them deploy their special education staff more efficiently, improve students’ IEP outcomes and save on costs. Telepractice can augment districts’ staffing for speech-language pathology services and enables them to cope with acute and chronic shortages of speech language pathologists (SLPs).

Willows Unified School District in rural Glenn County, CA, uses PresenceLearning’s telepractice services at its 485-student middle school, Willows Intermediate, to serve its extremely diverse population. Willows Intermediate sets high expectations for all students and aspires to be a true school of achievement.

With the nearest speech language pathologist more than 30 miles away, Willows Intermediate’s remote location presented an ongoing challenge for the district to provide speech pathology services.  The district turned to the Glenn County Office of Education’s Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) to help find a alternate solution for Willows Intermediate.

Having successfully used distance learning to deliver Spanish instruction at two of their high schools, the Glenn County SELPA was interested in using telepractice to deliver speech therapy services to their districts. Willows USD’s student services office chose to implement a blended model in which they would employ SLPs, conduct a telepractice pilot, and contract locally with private providers.

Before launching the telepractice component of the overall plan, the Willows USD student services office established the criteria for participation: sites needed the technological capacity to support the program; students had to be above grade three and already receiving speech therapy; and students could not need multiple modalities of therapies.

Willows Intermediate began using PresenceLearning in 2011 to serve students with live telepractice sessions scheduled in a way that optimized around students’ IEP goals and their busy school day schedules.

With PresenceLearning, the school was able to choose to have students working on the same skills work in pairs during sessions. By combining students into these small groups, students were able to miss less core curriculum class time throughout the day for related services.

Since implementing telepractice, Willows Intermediate has seen positive student outcomes, and received positive feedback from parents, students and staff. PresenceLearning’s SLP assigned to Willows has worked collaboratively with the school staff, and students have benefited from the engaging speech therapy sessions.

Looking ahead, the Glenn County SELPA is confident that the district’s upcoming IEP meetings will validate students’ progress, and they hope to expand the use of telepractice to other schools in the county with the goal of helping more special needs students reach their goals.

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