The student body of Pinehurst Elementary in Salisbury, Md., could present a potential challenge for any team of educators. The school has a student body of 475, including students in general education and self-contained special-education classrooms. Speech-language pathologist Amy Bradford has a caseload of 50 students in the self-contained classrooms, many with severe communication deficits who need intense intervention. Although Bradford is experienced—she's been working in the school for 13 years—and another part-time SLP provides intervention for some of the students in general education, she is grateful to have help from a speech-language pathology assistant, Alexis Tabor.
The women have worked together for two years since Tabor arrived at the school and forged a smooth professional relationship. Tabor works with 16 of Bradford's students, many of whom are working on functional communication. The two meet monthly to review goals, and Bradford observes Tabor working with each student. At the end of each session, Bradford provides feedback for future interventions.
"For these 16 students, Alexis is the main provider," Bradford said. "My role is to make sure she is working toward the goals in the most effective way. It is helpful to have this kind of assistance, considering how many higher-needs students I have on my caseload."
Tabor, who holds SLPA licensure from the state of Maryland, earned a bachelor's degree in communication sciences and disorders and is planning to pursue her master's degree in speech-language pathology in a few years. She said her role has provided the perfect opportunity to get a feel for her potential career. And, with that goal in mind, Bradford makes it a point to ensure that Tabor gets a true feel for what it's like to be a decision-maker when it comes to working with the students.
"I want Alexis to experience the clinical aspect of this field," Bradford said. "I'm trying to incorporate ways of getting her to think, ‘If this were my student on my caseload, what would I do?'"
And Tabor agrees that this approach gives her the challenge she needs as she considers her future. "I'm getting a great perspective—it's testing me and making me think really hard. It's kind of pushing me outside my comfort zone, but in a fun way."
How It Works
In one case, Tabor is just beginning to see a student whom Bradford had been treating for two school years. The student is scheduled five times per cycle (the school operates on a rotating schedule of six-day cycles); initially the two will work together with the student once every two weeks. Although eventually Tabor will be the main provider, Bradford is working with her more closely before she pulls back.
"This particular student has a lot of challenges and I want to make sure Alexis has all the information and resources she needs," explained Bradford. "I want this to be a successful relationship and we want to see this student progress."
Bradford will continue to monitor the progress by observing Tabor as she works with the student. Both women say during the observations, Bradford's presence is unobtrusive, the roles are clear, and there is no confusion among the students as to who is providing the services. They both attend Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings: Bradford fields questions about goals and service approaches, and Tabor—as the service provider—answers questions about performance or other details. Because they have such a positive working relationship, it all works.
"I've been really lucky," Bradford said. "Alexis and I have good communication, which is crucial to making this work. She is very efficient and provides me with the feedback I need for IEP meetings and drafting goals. SLPAs in some environments can be very good. If people who go into this position know that's what they want to do, there is a valuable place in the speech-language treatment world for them."
Tabor is excited about ASHA's new Associates Program and hopes it will provide her with opportunities to connect with others in her field. "I think it will be good to help us connect and talk about our experiences," she said. "Right now I'm only one of two SLPAs in the area that I know of and it would be great to hear about other people's experiences."
Amy Bradford, MS, CCC-SLP, can be reached at email@example.com. Alexis Tabor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.