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This past year has been challenging for many students, but for Surrey Schools students needing assistance from speech-language pathologists (SLPs), the challenges have been even greater, but have led to some important and creative solutions.
SLPs work with students who have a variety of communication needs such as speech sound disorders, language disorders, stuttering, voice and social communication challenges.
During the switch to remote learning, SLPs encountered new problems with students who experience speech and hearing issues. However, as necessity is the mother of invention, district staff found solutions, such as live captions on Microsoft Teams to bridge the gap and provide quality education, whether online or in the classroom.
"There are a lot of tools and additional skills that the speech-language pathologists are gaining that will be part of their practice moving forward," said Selma Smith, a district principal in Student Support. "COVID has really pushed us to look at how to best service kids with technology. These staff are adapting to this new way of being and I've been blown away by how hard they're working to support students and teachers during this pandemic."
With the return to face-to-face instruction in January, Smith said speech-language pathologists in the district are following the provincial health guidelines, which present a new range of challenges such as physical distancing and masks, which can make it difficult for some students to hear them or lipread.
"The teachers have to project more while wearing masks, which can cause vocal strain," she said. "We try to make them aware of that so they're not shouting and hurting their voice."
To address these new issues, the district has added Plexiglas barriers for face-to-face instruction, to allow SLPs to safely provide instruction without standing too far away. SLPs have also made additional use of technology both during their in-person sessions at schools with students and when providing services remotely such as teletherapy sessions in lieu of in-person therapy for some students of Surrey Blended, which has presented additional benefits for students and parents.
"Before, students would be in school getting therapy from the speech therapist, but now, the parent has increased opportunity to be present in sessions and learning the tools and strategies to support their child," said Smith. "We're seeing gains in progress just because of that proximity to the parent."
Smith said she hopes the creative work of Surrey's SLPs will be shared with others including teachers and educational assistants. Some examples of workshops being provided for the district include, "Strategies for Encouraging Language Development" and "Getting to Know Your Touch Chat Vocabulary."
With all of the challenges brought on by COVID, Surrey Schools SLPs have prioritized and maintained connections with students and have found ways to innovate and try new interventions.