Hinsdale school recognized for speech therapy program

KRISTOPHER RADDER - BRATTLEBORO REFORMERA Hinsdale High School student works on the computer.

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HINSDALE, N.H. — When thinking about speech therapy, you might envision a child locked away in a small room with a teacher, going over the distinction between the 'th' sound and the 'd' sound. Hinsdale High School has a different model.

Students at Hinsdale sit in a private room with a glass door, where they have video conference sessions with a speech-language pathologist.

Also in the room are paraprofessionals that monitor and facilitate lessons, helping the speech-language pathologist to best serve each individual student.

On Nov. 14, PresenceLearning, a digital special education service, announced that it was presenting the Hinsdale School District with an Award of Excellence for outstanding leadership and student progress in special education.

Hinsdale started working with PresenceLearning in 2014. The school needed a part-time speech pathologist. Julie Fenrich, the director of special services and middle/high school special education coordinator at Hinsdale, said she researched it and PresenceLearning seemed like the perfect fit. The school only intended on using the service for six weeks but, instead, Fenrich decided to keep it. Hinsdale was the first school in its region to use the service.

Fenrich said the students enjoy being able to work on the computer. "They're digital natives anyway," she said.

She, herself, is a fan too. "I love technology," she said.

Fenrich said the school's tech department did a stellar job setting up computers for students to work on.

"This was something I was really excited about and I think the cooperation of the administration, the technology department, PresenceLearning and the special education department was seamless," she said. "Everyone was on board; everyone was enthusiastic about it."

While Fenrich admitted she didn't have a frame of reference for how the program worked in other schools, she said that it seemed positive in Hinsdale.

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"The speech pathologist is so nice; she's so welcoming," Fenrich said.

The speech pathologist provides the students with lesson plans. When they get something right she has a graphic for a celebration, such as balloons. She also remembers special events in students' lives, such as birthdays. She sends students mail through their case managers.

"There are all kinds of motivators that she can use; she uses YouTube sometimes," Fenrich said.

In middle and high school, speech problems revolve less around pronunciation and more around pragmatic language issues and auditory processing. This means that students might not pick up on complex language or might have trouble with both listening and paying attention.

These disabilities are combated by "practice, practice, practice," Fenrich said. Vocabulary skills, antonyms, and synonyms are all effective skills the students learn. Hinsdale students work one-on-one with their speech pathologist or in groups of two.

Fenrich believes that the service is just as effective as having an in-person teacher. Any "personal touches," that might be missing from the program have been picked up by the school's case managers, she said.

Overall, Fenrich said, she was really grateful to the school for helping her put the program in place.

"My administration, the school board, they were like whatever you need to do for the kids, do it," she said.

Harmony Birch can be reached at hbirch@reformer.com, at @Birchharmony on Twitter and 802-254-2311, Ext. 153.