by Nancy Kijewski
As I sit across from my student, suddenly there it is! The moment that everything crystalizes—the one we all know. She looks up at me, her eyes shining and wide, and her excitement showing in a genuine smile. She got it! She knows it! And I helped guide her there. It is for that moment that I work every day.
I work as a speech language pathology assistant in an elementary school in the Peoria (Arizona) Unified School District. My school sits on the edge of virgin desert under wide blue skies that end in purple-brown mountains. But the beauty outside of my school is nothing compared to the beauty within. Inside Room 126 are wonderful speech-language students, who file through our room weekly. I am fortunate enough to work with two amazing speech-language pathologists who lead the way in caring, innovation, and compassion. Our caseload is filled with the usual suspects: children with autism spectrum disorders, fluency disorders, articulation and phonological disorders, language impairments, apraxia of speech, hearing loss, and four classrooms of children with mild to moderate cognitive delays. But I know them as Josh, Kasey, and Tori, and my job is to mitigate those other labels so that everyone else sees them as I do—as Josh, Kasey, and Tori. These students deserve excellence, and I believe ASHA will help me develop that within myself.
I say that I have the best job in education. I am allowed to provide exactly what students need, in a small setting, which has a definite impact on their future educational and social lives. In my district, I am fortunate to be treated with respect as a colleague both in the speech-language department and within the larger special education community. Throughout my career I have had the opportunity to work with five different SLPs; each has brought to me new insight, educational opportunities, and challenges. I have learned evidence-based intervention techniques from each, improving my ability to provide appropriate and effective treatment to all my students.
All of the SLPs I have worked with were ASHA members. We would often huddle around the computer to read ASHA's online journal articles containing the latest information on a disorder, or learn a treatment technique from an ASHA online course. When I heard that ASHA was considering offering associate affiliation to SLPAs, I wanted to sign up immediately.
Affiliation with ASHA would provide ongoing educational opportunities for me. I feel the lack of a master's education keenly, and I am constantly looking to increase my effectiveness to serve my students better. ASHA affiliation will offer me additional resources to help my professional growth. Associating with this premier association would provide me with information about the speech and language environment and the educational and research climate, as well as the important governmental issues that face my students and my profession. In addition, it affords me a voice in my field. As one who works with students first-hand, I feel my experience gives me unique insight into their educational and social needs.
The SLPA field is growing as the financial demands of school districts compete with the ever-present need for services. It is important that we all look to accountability, growth, and professionalism to create a positive name for all associates. It is exciting that ASHA will be there to provide the leadership that will guide those in my vocation.
Nancy Kijewski is a speech and language pathology assistant at Zuni Hills Elementary School in Peoria, Arizona. She earned a bachelor's degree in speech and hearing sciences at Arizona State University and has worked for the Peoria Unified School District for six years. She has worked with the general K–8 population and well as with self-contained classrooms for students with autism, mild to moderate cognitive delays, and developmental delays.