Kindergarten students with speech challenges have continued to make gains despite COVID-19 restrictions interrupting school-based speech therapy programs.
Speech and language screenings were carried out on approximately 340 kindergarten students who were all starting their education in the Cessnock Community of Great Public Schools earlier this year by Andrea Cooper Speech Pathology.
The screening gauged the students' ability to make sounds, be intelligible and understood by others, use grammar and follow instructions. The screening found there were students who had never received speech pathology services before who were presenting with speech problems. Director Andrea Cooper said speech development aligns with early literacy skills.
"If a student is not able to say a sound correctly, they are likely to have trouble spelling it, and this will impact many early reading and writing skills."
Ellalong Public School decided to invest in one-on-one speech pathology sessions for its students who needed intervention.
Principal Paul Gaden said the partnership with Andrea Cooper Speech Pathology to provide in-school speech therapy services was something that the school was very proud of.
"We have made the service much more accessible to our school community," he said.
"Our students are receiving targeted support from the speech therapist in areas of need, and are progressing in their language development and skills."
"By working collaboratively with the on-site speech therapist and participating in professional learning, teachers are now more aware of our students' speech and language needs and how to support and improve them during daily lessons."
"Throughout the COVID-19 remote learning period, we had to seriously consider whether we felt the program would continue to be effective when conducted over Telehealth," he said.
"After collaborating with Andrea Cooper and trialing the software, we determined that it was worth continuing and I'm really glad we did."
"During that time, we had fantastic support and engagement from our parents and the students, with many making positive gains."
"Another fantastic outcome has been that we have been able to quickly identify students requiring additional learning assistance, and we have supported families to access NDIS funding.
"Many of these students are now able to receive a mixture of school funded and NDIS funded therapy each week."
Ellalong Public School provided students with iPads to allow the therapy to continue while the students learned at home via Zoom.
"The great thing about this was we got the benefit of parents now being involved in our sessions - and they had to be," Andrea Cooper Speech Pathology clinician Sally Byrne said.
"By watching the session, parents knew what they could do at home to help their children practice. We got some great success that way."
Andrea said remote sessions had also resulted in some entertaining new features for learners.
"The challenge was making telehealth therapy fun," she said. "We wanted to make sure we were keeping the kids engaged for as long as possible, so we had green screens with different characters floating in the background, we had online games and other interactive resources. Sometimes I would even dress up in a costume to keep things interesting. We've incorporated some of these features into our face-to-face sessions."