Giving Students the Gift of Speech

When you step into a classroom and meet only four kids, you see how vastly different their needs are. There are some that will excel with no assistance, and there are those who will struggle with skills many take for granted. We don’t easily recognize our own privileges until we experience their loss- or someone shares their story.

– Hope Keenan, speech and language pathologist, Lake Pend Oreille School District

Here is one such story:

Speech impediments affect self-confidence, willingness to speak to others, and the way others perceive them, be they peers, strangers, or potential bosses. The earlier we can intervene and help children with these speech sound errors, the easier they are to fix. 

Hope Keenan is a Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) in the Special Education department at LPOSD, and her program, funded through a PAFE grant, helps resolve this issue early with a “SmartPalate.”

Let’s take a fourth-grader as an example. We’ll call him Kyle. Kyle, shy and reserved, struggles to enunciate his Rs accurately. Thanks to the SmartPalate that is all changing.  

SmartPalate is a personalized plastic retainer with a sheet of sensors covering the roof of the mouth mold that lights up on a screen when contacted by your tongue. How it works is Hope as the SLP, models an “r” with her SmartPalate in. The student can see which sensors light up on the screen and attempt different tongue movements until his display matches Hope’s.

Each student begins by “finding” their accurate sound (the hardest part) and producing that sound by itself, then progresses to practicing with their sound in syllables, words, phrases, sentences, read aloud, and conversation. By session three, Kyle was able to move to the word level. We had just in that session gotten his sound consistently accurate in isolation, and towards the end of our time he threw out a real word he wanted to try- and within a few takes nailed it! I threw my arms up in victory! Kyle had this giant smile, and his mom later told me that he had pulled her aside to tell her something very important:

“I got to the word level.”

And there is the key that makes this program so impactful. Students become their own clinician in that he/she is in control of both production and feedback. It’s like a game and they take charge of their own progress rather than passively receiving instruction. 

When students take charge of their learning and are driven to meet self-created goals, this is when they are working at their highest potential. 

Grants like this are a rare specialty and give PAFE the ability to give students the extra lift they need. When we assess grant applications, we look closely at the cost/benefit per student as a gauge for the awards. This one was a high cost per student but we saw the need to give that extra boost to those who need that. 

It’s easy to fall into a mindset of fairness and people view fairness as we all get an equal share. When you step into a classroom and meet only four kids, you see how vastly different their needs are. Some need more resources than others. Not all kids are typical. We don’t see our own privileges easily. 

Most school districts our size don’t have the funds to implement programs like SmartPalate and it is yet another example of how our donors are helping to make a substantial upstream difference in our community.