By Christopher Smith
CHATSWORTH — Nate Humble’s speech therapist isn’t in his classroom at Northwest Elementary School this day, but he will get a lesson nevertheless.
Nate is one of several special needs students at Northwest Elementary and Coker Elementary schools receiving therapy through PresenceLearning, an online speech and language program connecting students to off-site speech therapists by webcam.
Hollie Humble, Nate’s mother and receptionist at Northwest Elementary, said the program is “fantastic.”
“I have seen improvement,” she said. “Mainly ... it helps him with speech but also academics ... he gets a report card, we talk about it and I can see the improvement. The therapist tells him what letters and sound they’re working on — tells me words I can work with him on at home.”
That’s good news to Allison Oxford, director of instructional support services for the school system.
“Recent budget cuts and the resignation of one of our (therapists) left us with a hole,” she said in a press release. “PresenceLearning not only provides high quality speech therapy for our students, it also became a caseload management tool for us.
“Students love this program. It’s online – there’s a lot of games to play … as a school system we’re dealing with digital natives (a generation born into a technology-driven society). So students are loving the online aspect of PresenceLearning because it’s what they already do.”
But it might also be helpful to teachers and parents.
“Parents can go online and see the recordings of the therapy,” Oxford said. “I can go on and see progress and goals — the amount of time they’ve been served and progress on individual goals (logged by the therapists). It’s amazing the level of accountability it provides.”
Though Oxford declined to give the program’s price — paid through the school system’s general fund — it’s “comparable to hiring a contracted speech pathologist, which is about $65,000 a year, generally speaking.”
Whatever the pricing, Humble said it’s money well spent.
“It helps him (Nate) a lot,” she said. “I can see how it’s working. He is making progress because of this program.”
But it’s not for every student, Oxford said.
“You need an attention span and behavioral control so you can sit and attend for 30 minutes,” she said. “You need basic computer skills like how to use a mouse. For some of our more severe or profound kids … it’s not appropriate for them. We have seen positive results though. There’s no ending data yet, but it’s something that will help us with speech therapy.”
And with cost, she added.
“Like everyone else, we’re trying to cut costs anyway we can,” she said. “Fuel is so expensive …we want to minimize the cost anyway we can and spend it on instruction … it’s time and fuel and we want to cut.”