In rural school districts, time is valuable and budgets are tight. As executive director of the Central Kansas Cooperative in Education (CKCIE), Mike Lowers turned to teletherapy to solve critical challenges. CKCIE has a school population of more than 14,200 in preschool through grade 12 and provides special education services to nearly 3,000 exceptional students.
“Time with students is much more valuable than being behind the wheel. It means the ability to provide more services to students with special needs.”
–Mike Lowers, Former Executive Director of the Central Kansas Cooperative in Education
Here Lowers describes the four reasons why he chose to innovate with teletherapy.
Meeting Every Student & Parent Where They Are
For our 12 rural districts, an online therapy solution helped us to ensure that all eligible students receive the services they depend upon. It provided us with a streamlined and reliable resource that extended our on-site team and helped us to share resources across the districts. And it expanded access to a broader range of capabilities, such as a bilingual therapist. Most importantly it offered the ability for students to participate in therapy sessions, no matter where they live or attend school (including from home).
We also found that the use of the online platform for IEP meetings empowered parents, who could not leave work, to start attending meetings virtually while remaining on site. We saw parent participation rates increase as a result for parents who previously had no way to participate in the meetings.
Hiring & Retaining
We had already struggled to find and hire speech therapists, so we used teletherapy to serve a portion of the speech therapy caseload. We had 17 SLPs working in person and an additional nine SLPs working via teletherapy, providing online services to some 450 students who otherwise would not receive therapy.
Another challenge was retention, with staff leaving our area to work in metropolitan parts of the state. In March 2020, we began using PresenceLearning’s Therapy Essentials for all of our own staff. In doing so, we had a light-bulb moment: maybe our staff didn’t have to go back to fully in-person when this was all over. A new employment strategy also presented itself: If someone moved away, instead of losing them, they could be converted to a remote employee and use the therapy platform to serve students. In the future, a blend of online and in-person services can and will be a tremendous asset to organizations that struggle to fill special education positions.
Using Resources Wisely
Why continue to lose hours of productivity to drive time? School staff in our rural area really grappled with “windshield time”: time spent driving from site to site. In addition to the lost time during the workday, there was also the very tangible cost of mileage reimbursement. Teletherapy saved us not only time and money, but it also helped our staff manage their caseload better. And ultimately I believe it helps prevent staff from the burnout that is all too common among providers today.
Being Ready for the Future
It is so rewarding to teach and empower students to navigate the world successfully. Technology, low and high-tech alike, are tremendous tools that provide a path to independence for kids. By equipping kids with technology skills, we are preparing them for the digital age.
Mike Lowers was formerly the executive director of the Central Kansas Cooperative in Education. He currently serves as director of school implementation at PresenceLearning, helping schools ensure that each student receives the individualized assessments and therapy they need, when and where they need them.
As you and your school consider how to meet students where they are, online therapy or teletherapy may support your school in extending its in-person team and reaching students at home and in school. Get in touch for a consultation today.