Christine Nichols is a speech pathologist at Winfield Elementary School in Putnam County. In this audio postcard she talks about the challenges of trying to do speech therapy remotely with young kids who may not have access to the internet – even if they have caregivers who can help them.
When Gov. Jim Justice issued a stay at home order in late March, teachers across the state rushed to set up ways to continue teaching, despite students being unable to come to the classroom.
Nichols was one of those educators.
“We made packets for all of our kids,” she said. “And we were under the gun a little bit because we only had a day to do it, and then we weren’t allowed to be back in the schools at all.”
In addition to making paper packets, Nichols and her colleagues were given other options to keep working with students, including talking by video chat and over the phone. But video chat only works if both parties have reliable internet, which can be a challenge in parts of West Virginia. The video platforms also need to comply with federal health privacy laws.
It also soon became apparent that not all students would be able to approach remote learning in the same ways.
“Some parents don’t have access to the internet, so that would make teletherapy impossible,” she said. “Some of our kids are staying with relatives that we didn’t know that they were with, or foster families — that made it difficult.”
As a speech pathologist, Nichols works with students to help them learn to better communicate. She said she often relies on visually assessing clients in order to help them, and that’s hard to do over the phone.
“Like if a child has trouble saying the ‘S’ sound, that could sound like the ‘F’ sound over the phone,” she said. “If I can’t see what that kid’s doing with their mouth, then I can’t give the feedback to say, ‘Oh, you need to put your teeth together.'”
Nichols said she also knows some parents are juggling working from home and teaching multiple kids.
“So, it’s a little bit unrealistic for me to say, ‘OK, you need to sit down with your one child for 30 minutes twice a week and do this,'” she said. “I want to be compassionate with our parents, and I want to make sure I’m not giving them something that [they] can’t handle, but I’m also trying to stay within the [Individualized Education Program] guidelines.” (IEPs are developed for each student receiving special education.)
She said, overall, some learning is still happening. Educators, parents and students are adapting as best they can, but the coronavirus pandemic unleashed a set of circumstances few could have imagined.
“We’re just now starting to get a handle on this and we will make it work,” she said, “but it’s just going to look really different than anything we’ve ever done.”