Kershaw County School District’s central office is located in Camden, South Carolina. The district includes approximately 11,000 students in 20 schools spread out across 740 square miles, making it one of the most geographically expansive districts in South Carolina. It runs the gamut from urban to rural across its three high schools, four middle schools, and 11 elementary schools. Its largest school has about 1,650 students and the smallest school has approximately 120 students.
Kershaw County School District is in a unique location where some schools are in urban areas while others are in much more rural settings. The district has a large number of students that have needs as defined by IEPs, including speech and hearing. While there is a shortage of speech-language pathologists in the state, the district’s unique layout and size makes it even more difficult to hire. “We have a lot more students in need than we have speech pathologists,” said Chad Dixon, Principal at North Central Middle School.
Kershaw County Schools partnered with PresenceLearning after a district leader learned about the company at a conference. “I was able to contact PresenceLearning, share our needs at each school, and talk about how they could solve our issues,” said Tarry McGovern, Director of Special Services.“ After this conversation, they came on site, took a look at our schools, and then walked us through what live online speech would look like for us.”
Since partnering with PresenceLearning, work between the existing staff and the contracted clinicians continues to be seamless. Teachers in the district also gain new collaborators to work with in and out of the classrooms. “PresenceLearning clinicians communicate with me frequently about our students. They join IEP meetings virtually because they are really an integral part of the students’ team,” said Mindy Donlon, a Special Educator at North Central Middle School. “It is like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I know the students’ needs are being met. The PresenceLearning clinicians are doing a great job, so it’s one less thing I have to worry about.”
Educators throughout the district have been able to see the progress students are making now that they have consistent teletherapy. “Consistency is the key to success in special education; if students have a speech language goal, instruction has to be consistent to make progress,” said Donlon. “My students who participate in teletherapy have made great progress, especially socially. Their peers interact with them more and understand them better—I think that’s the most important thing.”
Speech-language teletherapy is adaptable to meet the individual needs of Kershaw County students. Some students go independently to the room where services are provided, while other students go with a staff member who provides instructional assistance. “Our students are excited to go, and they really build relationships with the providers. Our teachers have embraced the idea and look forward to the sessions as well,” said Lesley Corner, Principal at Camden High School. “It really has become a part of our school environment and a part of our curriculum for participating students.”
Kershaw County School District has seen additional advantages of teletherapy through the features offered by the PresenceLearning platform. The platform provides information on each student—all in one location— making it easy for administrators to access data and stay updated on student progress. “Anything you need to know about the students, such as when their IEPs and evaluations are due, and what they are working on, can be found in the platform,” said Eva Roach, an Administrative Assistant for special services for Kershaw County. “Just by clicking on the student’s name, all data is on one single page; that is how easy it is to use PresenceLearning.”
The platform allows administrators to monitor student attendance and keep track of the school sites assigned to providers, the caseload of the providers and how many students they’re servicing, and individual information on each student. “Everything is right before your eyes,” said Roach. “I love PresenceLearning because they give you even more than what is needed.”
Administrators and teachers easily access reporting with the PresenceLearning platform. “Before, we had to call and then fax something over, but now we just pull it up on the screen and all the information is right there,” said Lori Pate, the Assistant Principal at North Central Middle School. “When parents call or we have an IEP meeting, we have access to the reports and can show parents where students are making progress. In fact, we have more access to reporting through PresenceLearning than we do with our onsite SLPs.”
Kershaw County School District partnered with PresenceLearning not only for one-on-one teletherapy services; they are also using it for group teletherapy. Every student has different needs, and PresenceLearning can provide services delivered in a format that works best for the student.
Group teletherapy has many benefits, one being socialization. “It’s awesome that they are getting to interact because I believe that if you can’t socialize, you are limited in what you can do in the world. So that social aspect is extremely important,” said Donlan. “I love that they do it together, and I know the kids like to interact with each other.”
Group teletherapy is also beneficial for students who struggle to engage with their peers. “The students’ therapist guides them through how to engage and what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate when having peers there,” said Sarah Beth Helsley, the Special Education Moderate ID teacher and the department head at North Central Middle School. “It’s really neat to see that students are working on the same skills, but it looks totally different for two different kids—so it is very individualized, but very group-centered too.”
When Kershaw County School District and PresenceLearning started working together, parents were unsure about the partnership because they weren’t familiar with teletherapy. PresenceLearning provided teachers with introductory letters to send to parents, and they met with school staff to discuss how staff can support parents and keep them engaged and informed about teletherapy and about the progress their children are making.
“I think parents being informed is the key to success,” said McGovern. “One of the powerful things with PresenceLearning is that parents can actually log in and see their children receiving speech therapy, which is very helpful in making them our partners in the process.”
Parents started to not only see teletherapy working during sessions, but it carried over into their homes as well. “At home, I see the progress he’s making. It used to be little simple words he couldn’t say, but now he can say them on his own,” said Jaleesa B., a parent of a middle school student.
Kershaw County high schooler speaks her first word during a teletherapy session.
Arisleida De Guzman, a Special Education Teacher at Camden High School, provides support for students who are nonverbal, some of whom utilize augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices. The PresenceLearning therapist views the AAC device interface through use of a second camera, and is able to facilitate AAC device training and implementation through the PresenceLearning platform and coaching.
Through the platform, De Guzman and her students are able to engage with their remote therapists through interactive exercises designed to build communication skills, including speech-language. Previously, one student’s mode of communication was limited to facial expressions and body language. But one day, De Guzman heard her say “Hi” during a teletherapy session. This “Hi” was her first verbal word ever.