Pre-K students in Merida Frank’s classroom recently hunted for scarecrows.
But to do so, they had to choose and pronounce words with their special speech sounds to find the scarecrows. Lars Meredith and Joe Fleck’s assignment was to make a flat tire sound with the words they chose.
“When we say those sounds, our tongues and our lips have jobs,” Frank reminded them. “Joe, what’s our tongue’s job when we say our sound?”
“Ssssssth,” Joe eagerly responded.
“Does is sneak out like a snake? No, we keep it in the cage,” Frank instructed. “What’s the cage? Our teeth — right.”
A longtime speech-language pathologist, Frank joined St. Mary’s Special Services in 2020, eager to put her talents to use in Catholic schools. Frank previously worked for a public school district and the First Steps program. She was excited when she discovered an opening for a speech-language therapist position with St. Mary’s Special Services. The program is under the umbrella of the archdiocesan Department of Special Education, which receives funding from the Annual Catholic Appeal.
“It’s so exciting that we get to be in Catholic schools and support students,” said Frank, who is a member of Holy Infant Parish in Ballwin. “It’s really cool that we get to be a part of this.”
In the 2017-18 academic year, St. Mary’s Special Services transitioned from a site-based preschool to a service-provider model, providing special education services within Catholic elementary schools. Partnering with the Federation of Catholic Schools, St. Mary’s Special Services has three speech-language pathologists serving about 200 students in pre-K through eighth grade at eight elementary schools in north St. Louis County.
Therapists cover services including speech sound disorders, language deficiencies, social skills, fluency, executive functioning, articulation disorders, autism and early reading markers related to language acquisition.
Students are referred by their teacher, with therapists providing screening to see if they qualify for services. Students receive a Response to Intervention Plan, with specific goals for each student.
Therapists also work with teachers to address speech and language skills that would benefit the entire class, regardless of qualification for services. Therapists have presented information to teachers through the federation’s Professional Learning Teams.
“Some of it has been educating teachers on speech and language disorders, to help identify needs of students in the classroom,” said Stacie Hoover, who was hired in August as executive director of St. Mary’s Special Services. “Teachers don’t always receive that education or background in their training.”
Hoover noted that there is a hope to expand to other parts of the archdiocese in the future after decisions have been made with the All Things New strategic planning initiative.
“Our ultimate outcome is school success for our students,” she said. “Providing speech and language services enriches the lives of our students and gives them the confidence they need in and out of the classroom.”