Glades County is a small and tight-knit community. Home to 1,250 students in the district and located on the western shores of Lake Okeechobee, Glades County Schools is unique in that a charter school on an Indian reservation is also part of their district. With approximately 100 students in Exceptional Education, Glades looks to build communication with their parents and educate them on how best to support Exceptional Education services.
Another focus for Glades is on professional development. Their mission is to help their educators to continuously grow, aptly named “Grow in Glades”. Being a very rural agricultural district, the name fits in more ways than one. But being rural also comes with challenges, and Glades was in dire need of qualified speech-language pathologists (SLPs). Director of Exceptional Education Andrea Schillinger was well aware of the need, as well as the parents’ concerns regarding the services their students were currently receiving. Schillinger met TeleTeachers’ Director of People and Culture Shannon Rouff at a conference, and learned how teletherapy might just be the answer to her problem.
“Our parents had concerns about which services and the quality of the services their students were receiving. I spoke with Shannon about looking for that ‘all-in-one’ service: having highly qualified speech-language pathologists and also having Mira (TeleTeachers’ technology platform by which services are delivered) connect our parents and providers,” says Schillinger.
And so, a relationship between TeleTeachers and Glades County Schools began and has been building and growing ever since. When asked what specific problems Glades faced prior to the relationship, Schillinger mentioned the fact that since they were a rural district the access to high quality special education providers was limited. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic had highlighted the importance of having SLPs that were familiar with how to provide services online. The SLPs they could find were not well-versed in online learning, and that was a major concern for the parents. While the students were learning from home during the pandemic, the parents weren’t liking what they were seeing in regards to services. Schillinger says that once TeleTeachers started working with Glades, the students and parents enjoyed a renewed sense of confidence due to the high level of services and innovative techniques TeleTeachers was utilizing.
“They (the SLPs) had fun little games for the students and were able to record snapshots of their sessions and growth, and were able to share with our parents. It was so beneficial having therapists that were from outside Glades County who had a world of experience overcoming so many different challenges. They were able to quickly pull from their toolboxes and address those needs,” she says.
Another issue that was resolved with providing services online with TeleTeachers was an unexpected pleasant surprise. When Glades had SLPs in person, many teachers complained that having them in the classroom providing a group session while class was going on, was often very disruptive. Either the therapist was not able to hear the students or the students were distracted by other lessons happening in the classroom. But now, they are often in different classrooms or have headphones on and are able to be completely engaged in their session. In fact, it worked out so well even the skeptical teachers admitted it has been a very successful school year.
Schillinger says the TeleTeachers provider team assigned to Glades was extremely professional, on top of their caseloads and willing to be flexible with the schools when schedules had to change. She adds that all four of her TeleTeachers providers did a wonderful job communicating with the parents, and the teachers at Glades were happy they were a part of the team this year.
Speech and Language Pathologist for the Pre-K students throughout the district, Kate Kans, says though there were things to work through at first, everyone worked seamlessly together as a team.
“I really appreciate the support of teachers and staff to help our speech and language students fit compensatory services and evaluations into the schedule whenever possible. Andrea Schillinger and all members of the IEP teams were extremely supportive to help answer questions, facilitate more effective procedures, and assist in getting our students the assistance they need! I really enjoy working with Glades and we have come a long way from the beginning of the school year,” says Kans.
After such a successful year, Schillinger looks to grow with TeleTeachers for the future. She anticipates needing a virtual mental and behavioral health counselor for the district, and knows TeleTeachers can step in and help.
“We have all been very impressed with the level of quality of TeleTeachers providers that we have received. I think every school district should be open to every kind of partnership they can provide for services, because otherwise they are limiting themselves to pieces of what’s possible. We want our students to get the highest level of support we can possibly give them, and being able to reach beyond your vicinity to handle those needs is amazing.”