Lewis Cass Intermediate School District (Lewis Cass ISD) serves almost 8,000 PreK-12 students from four local school districts in southwest Michigan. It provides these districts with special education services, instructional services, and career technical education coordination.
When COVID-19 caused school closures, Lewis Cass Intermediate School District (Lewis Cass ISD) quickly pivoted to provide online speech therapy to its students who are spread out over 485-plus square miles of southwest Michigan.
“We were in unfamiliar territory and needed a robust platform to support our now-online delivery of services,” said Tina Wimberley, Director of Special Education at Lewis Cass ISD. “The platform we were using wasn’t fitting the bill for our students with the most significant needs, so we turned to PresenceLearning as an alternative. Our SLP Melissa Phillips, who’s been with us for quite a while, jumped at the chance to pilot it for us.”
“When I first started delivering teletherapy using the previous online platform, I felt like I was an entertainer trying to capture my students’ attention,” said Phillips, who has been an SLP at Lewis Cass ISD for 18 years. “With PresenceLearning, I’m an SLP. There is such a stark difference in what I can accomplish.”
Philips received PresenceLearning’s Teletherapy 101 professional development to help adapt her practice for remote delivery. This included live online teletherapy training and recurring live online office hours with PresenceLearning clinical experts, as well as access to the company’s proprietary Telehealth Institute self-guided training modules.
“The teletherapy trainings have been incredibly invaluable,” said Phillips. “I was not taught to do speech in this way and always thought therapy needed to be conducted in person. The team at PresenceLearning showed me this wasn’t the case – they were so supportive and answered all my questions so that I could jump right in.”
“It’s nice to be able to speak the same language since all of the trainers are SLPs. They did such a great job of making me feel comfortable,” she added.
Through the Teletherapy 101 training, school-based teams receive practical, effective approaches and resources for getting the most out of teletherapy in home environments. This includes strategies for managing student focus and engagement through screens, developing trust and rapport through screens, communication and training templates for parents who are supporting sessions at home, and how to make the most of the extensive content and tools in the PresenceLearning platform. The platform’s functionality has been especially important for Phillips and her students, who are anywhere from three to 13 in age.
“All of the resources in the platform are great,” she said. “I can show a book, such as Rosie’s Walk, right on screen and use the pen tool to circle and highlight specific items to grab my student’s attention. This is so much easier than actually trying to show a physical book and spatially fitting it on the screen for students to see.”
“Working with such young children, I really appreciate the ability to provide tangible reinforcements through animation using the PresenceLearning platform,” added Phillips. “The parents I work with really appreciate PresenceLearning as well. One mom said to me, ‘holy cow – I didn’t realize my son could pay attention like that!’ The PresenceLearning format really helps to facilitate attention during speech sessions.”
Glenyce Bentzer, whose four-year-old son receives speech therapy services from Phillips, has seen firsthand the impact of teletherapy using the PresenceLearning platform. “With quarantine happening, I was worried my son was going to plateau, but that hasn’t been the case,” she said. “My son is so engaged during his sessions. He loves interacting with Ms. Melissa, receiving the virtual rewards, and learning through the different games, such as Memory which is his favorite. We weren’t getting that type of interaction when we were using the previous platform. It’s been so awesome to watch him really connect and make progress.”
“From my perspective, PresenceLearning has also facilitated a new level of communication,” added Bentzer. “In addition to me now being able to sit with my son while he receives therapy, I am able to chat with Ms. Melissa after each session about the specific concepts being taught and how to extend the learning at home, which has been so helpful in my son meeting all of his goals for this year. I don’t think we would have been as successful without Ms. Melissa and PresenceLearning.”
Phillips has also experienced noteworthy results with many of her other students, who are in early childhood special education or who have moderate to severe impairments. One notable success was with a four-year-old student on the Autism spectrum.
“When we first started teletherapy using a commercially-available online platform, her visual attention and participation was at zero. She would cry before sessions and her Dad couldn’t get her to attend,” said Phillips. “I asked for one more chance when we implemented PresenceLearning and the results have been awesome. She’s now consistently engaged more than 90 percent of the time! I’m so glad we stuck with it.”
Phillips is now using the PresenceLearning platform to deliver services during the extended school year. The Lewis Cass ISD team is also looking at multiple ways in which it could continue to utilize teletherapy next year, including with birth to three or homebound students or to conduct evaluations.
“PresenceLearning also provides a viable option if we ever have a staffing need,” said Wimberley. “There’s really so many ways it can be used.”