More than 40 children at BayCrest Elementary School in Tampa, Fla., take part in Speech Club, a unique program that not only helps students who have speech and language impairment but also provides service within the school and the local community.
|Shane Theobald and Sammy McNair read a story on individuality to a kindergarten class. Speech Club members generalize their speech remediation by reading character education stories to younger children.
The provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act offer more opportunities for inclusion of students with special needs, and Speech Club brings together regular education students with students who have speech and language remediation needs. Prior to the response-to-intervention model, regular education students often would ask if they could come to my class, and I was at a loss as to how to include them in treatment sessions. With Speech Club, I no longer have to say, "I'm sorry, but your classroom teacher has to make a recommendation to a school-wide committee."
The genesis of the Speech Club took place five years ago, when one of my fifth-grade students with speech impairment reacted to the news that the PTA was not going to produce a yearbook. The disappointed student knew how to make a video DVD; I had a video camera; and he needed carryover and generalization activities. Together we came up with a plan that brought those elements together: videotape the students and faculty at our school and sell the DVD memories. We took the idea to the principal, who explained that to conduct a fundraising project, we needed to form a club that I would sponsor.
I ran that pre-Speech Club with 85 students (my entire caseload) and no assistance. Since then, I have developed a structured program and recruited volunteer helpers, easing the time burden of those early days.
The Speech Club now meets for an hour each week during the school day. Students in grades 3–5 are eligible for the club; all students who want to join must write a two-paragraph essay telling me why they want to be in the Speech Club. Each student's homeroom teacher and parent sign a contract that deals with attendance and classroom performance. Any student who misses three meetings is released from the club. Students whose teachers indicate poor classroom performance or missed homework assignments are suspended from the club for a period established by the teacher.
Students from my speech-language caseload represent about one-third of the 40-plus members. The club meeting becomes the treatment session for students who have an Individualized Education Program that calls for generalization/carryover activities. Some parents volunteer when I have special projects for the children. Once a month I get parent permission to have the students stay after school to practice our programs.
Speech Club activities benefit the school and the community. Speech Club members perform holiday and spring programs of songs, poems, and skits at an area nursing home. The students read poems and sing songs that have many of the sounds the students are learning to generalize. They also practice the song word-by-word in other treatment sessions, but in Speech Club meetings they get to sing them without concentrating on a particular sound.
Teams of Speech Club members visit kindergarten, first-grade, and second-grade classrooms to read a book, recite a poem, or give instruction on the school's character education word of the month. We appear weekly on the school's live morning show and the children give a statement (one minute or shorter) that explains the character education word of the month. We also have planting projects for community beautification.
Twice a year the club sponsors one of its favorite fundraisers—selling "happy grams." The students brainstorm for positive messages that can be written on an index card, such as "You make me smile," "I'm glad that you are my friend," "You are my best friend," "I love you, Mom and Dad," and "You are the best teacher ever!" Students can purchase a happy gram to be delivered to a teacher, another student, or parents.
We print about 25 messages on a poster to help younger students decide what to say in their messages. Wearing happy-face t-shirts and hats, speech club members who are more outgoing and like to interact with other students sell the happy grams before school in the cafeteria. If someone buys two or more happy grams, one of sellers will do a "happy dance" for the customer!
After the orders are taken, another group of students comes to my treatment room (with permission from their classroom teachers) to write the message on a preprinted happy gram index card. They learn organizational skills by arranging the messages by grade levels for easier delivery.
The students attach a lollipop or piece of bubble gum to the messages and deliver them to the designated recipients (or give them to children to take home to parents). The student who delivers the message—dressed in our happy-gram costume—enters the classroom and asks the teacher for permission to deliver the message. The recipient is asked if he or she wants it read aloud or privately. (I usually make up an anonymous message and give it to popular fifth-grade students to get the ball rolling, because that age group is reluctant to give happy grams!)
Our school's motto is "BayCrest is our PEARL" (Partnership, Education, Achievement, Respect, and Love). Each month at the school pep rally, the Speech Club coordinates the Pearl Award, given to a student and teacher in each grade level. We award a string of (fake) pearls to recipients, who have been elected by a school-wide vote that we tally.
The Speech Club program helps students with language impairment generalize their treatment, brings together students from general and special education, and provides service to the community and school. In fact, the program's community service component contributed to the school being named a Five-Star School, a designation of the Florida Department of Education for schools that demonstrate exemplary community involvement.