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A Piece of the Puzzle

by Casey Oliver
written by
Puzzle board

Photo by Casey Oliver

I never imagined I would cry tears of joy during my first day of work, much less during an in-service about poverty, but there I was, with misty eyes and a smile on my face, so grateful and in awe of the incredible staff I will be working with this year. Thanks to them, I had a deeper understanding of the perspectives and talents of children and families who live in poverty. On my second day of work, the tears of joy came again during a drum circle I was participating in as we were discussing arts integration into all aspects of the curriculum. Ideas flooded into my mind about using music and rhythms to teach syllable stress and other phonological skills. More tears came later in the day during an in-service on the effects of bullying and practical strategies for helping children who are bullied, as well as the bullies themselves. I felt empowered to help my speech students with bullying issues in a real and effective way. These bursts of inspiration and hope were new to me, but the ideas and concepts were not. Other SLPs have written about these topics. But for the first time, I felt like I could actually make my ideas and plans become a reality, and I wouldn’t have to do it alone! I am part of a team at my new school, and we are all are working toward the same goals. Collaboration is expected, practiced, and planned for.

This school year, I am embarking on an adventure. It is an opportunity for which I am very grateful, yet I am sure it will also be a humbling learning experience in many ways. I have been hired by a Catholic school in Sacramento, California to serve on staff as a speech-language pathologist. I know there are many private practice clinicians that serve private school students, but I do not personally know of many other SLPs that serve as part of a parochial school staff. (If there are more of you out there, I would love to hear from you!) I don’t have the support of a “speech department” or the same kind of paycheck I would get in a public school setting. However, I have the freedom to develop my own service delivery model and treatment plans, which in many ways is priceless. I will be providing direct and consultative services on campus during the school day, and I will also be serving as a case manager, helping my students and their families access other speech pathology resources available in the community. I have developed universal speech and language goals for the entire student body, and I hope to truly be a resource for all of our students and staff.

I can’t take all of the credit for the design of the “first-draft” of my service delivery model. Actually, I got a lot of my ideas at the ASHA Schools Conference in Las Vegas this year. My favorite courses were about unique service delivery models and the educational relevance of communication disorders. There is also an excellent post on the ASHA blog called the Case for Consultation. I am very excited to implement some of these incredible ideas. Thank you to all of the ASHA members, professors, and school-based clinicians who have inspired me and taught me over the years!

Back to my first week of work…I was really surprised about how that first week impacted me. I loved being a part of the teacher’s in-services. I was not expecting that! Every in-service was applicable to me in some way, and because I gave my own in-service on speech and language, the other in-service instructors were able to connect what they were talking about to what I had presented. As a staff we were even provided CPR and first aid training. I loved that! Participating in the teachers’ in-services made me feel like an official part of the team, and from a professional development perspective, I learned a great deal that will definitely impact how I deliver services this year.

At the end of the in-service week, we were asked to each make a puzzle piece about ourselves. We were allowed to decorate it however we liked, and we each had an opportunity to talk about ourselves and what we put on the puzzle piece. I am not an artist, so I mostly put a lot of different words on my puzzle piece and had my oldest daughter draw a picture of our family. I love to communicate, and I love helping others communicate to the best of their abilities. I am also a singer and liturgical musician, so I got to talk about that, as well as my family, faith, and other interests I have. After each staff member presented, our principal added his or her puzzle piece to the growing puzzle. For the first time in my career as a school-based SLP, I felt like I really belonged, like I “fit in,” and that I was, indeed, an essential piece of the puzzle at my school. I am looking forward to an amazing year. I realize it will not be without some challenges, but I am energized in a way I have never been before. I hope to keep you posted throughout the year, and I will be seeking input and advice as I continue to develop and improve upon the service delivery model at my school.

Casey Oliver, M.S., CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist and liturgical musician living in the Sacramento, California area. Casey has worked as a SLP in the public schools, in private practice, and now at a Catholic school, the St. Patrick SUCCEED Academy. Casey is very excited to be contributing to the ASHAsphere, and she is also blogging about her experience working for a Catholic school at Catholic School SLP.

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1 comment

Eileen Marfe, M.S., CCC-SLP November 16, 2010 - 1:22 pm

Hi. My name is Eileen and I, too, am a speech and language pathologist serving children in a Catholic school setting in Arizona. I have been blessed to be working at St. Mary-Basha Catholic School since the fall of 2001 as a part of the teaching staff. Prior to that, I volunteered at the school for one year as part of my parent service hours requirement (I have had 4 of my own adopted children at the school), and when the value of the service became evident, I was hired as a staff member!

Before I began my career at SMB, I worked in a couple different public school districts in Arizona for a total of 19 years. It was rewarding to be servicing children in the public schools, and I made a lot of wonderful friends, but I have never worked in as peaceful and positive of an environment as I have found here at St. Mary-Basha! We have an amazing principal, Sr. Mary Norbert Long, a Sister of Charity, who has been the most awesome principal I have ever worked for! She knows every child, every parent, and every staff member, and truly cares about and prays for everyone.

At SMB, we hold very high standards of excellence in the education of our students. We are dedicated to providing an environment where every child has the opportunity to be the best that they can be, in terms of spirtitual, academic, social/emotional, technological, communicative and physical well-being students. We have even earned the Blue Ribbon School Award, and have been used repeatedly as an example for other schools to look to as a model of excellence. You can tell, I am very proud to be a part of this amazing school!

As a part of St. Mary-Basha, I get the wonderful opportunity to work toward the goal of ensuring excellence in the communication skills of all of our students, from kindergarten up through 8th grade. As a preschool speech therapist for the nine years prior to coming to SMB, I saw first hand how successfully young children can develop their communication skills despite the usual “criteria” used in the public schools. So, when Sr. Mary Norbert said that I could design my program the way that I believed to be the best professionally, my first priority became early intervention! Therefore, you will see me working on articulation drills involving even /s, z, r, l, th/ in kindergarten. Yes, it makes for a higher caseload, but I service my kinders and first graders in the classroom, pulling them aside for drills only for a few minutes each, and send homework for them to do additionally with their parents. I have found that, by providing this early intervention, children are taught to discriminate sound differences, allowing less confusion in their writing and reading skills. Additionally, this early approach allows for earlier dismissals from the speech program, and thus, my caseload dwindles as the students get to second or third grade. Is this the most research-sound approach? I don’t know. But, it works for my students, the parents are happy, and my principal and teachers seem to like this approach.

There are so many wonderful and exciting things about working at a Catholic School, but the bottom line in the end for me is that, by being here at St. Mary-Basha School, I am able to use the talents and gifts that God has given to me, in an environment where I can also freely speak about and teach my love for God, and can even go to church on Fridays and Holy days with my students and my own children. And we start every single day with prayer! To me, there can be no greater gift than that!

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