SLP Turns Dream of a Speech Academy Into Reality The school day starts early for Toni Giannone. Even before her 20 students arrive at 8 a.m. to the private Speech Academy’s headquarters in a countryside house in Monroe, Conn., Giannone has been prepping for hours. She has organized plans for the day, entered data from the day before, and ... Features
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Features  |   August 01, 2011
SLP Turns Dream of a Speech Academy Into Reality
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  • Kellie Rowden-Racette, print and online writer and editor for The ASHA Leader, can be reached at krowden-racette@asha.org.
    Kellie Rowden-Racette, print and online writer and editor for The ASHA Leader, can be reached at krowden-racette@asha.org.×
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School-Based Settings / Professional Issues & Training / Features
Features   |   August 01, 2011
SLP Turns Dream of a Speech Academy Into Reality
The ASHA Leader, August 2011, Vol. 16, 26. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.16102011.26
The ASHA Leader, August 2011, Vol. 16, 26. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.16102011.26
The school day starts early for Toni Giannone. Even before her 20 students arrive at 8 a.m. to the private Speech Academy’s headquarters in a countryside house in Monroe, Conn., Giannone has been prepping for hours. She has organized plans for the day, entered data from the day before, and is ready to roll.
Next up is one-on-one time with each student to determine the level of their daily language goals. In between classes and serving her caseload (she works with all the students, usually seeing eight per day at least), she takes care of the school’s administrative tasks. Toward the end of the school day, she meets with the students again to determine their mastery of their daily goals. After the students go home, she spends her late afternoons and evenings entering data, modifying goals, and creating individualized education programs—and maybe even eating or sleeping. Maybe.
“Oh, it’s definitely a tremendous amount of work,” she said, laughing. “There’s really not a lot of downtime around here.”
But the lack of downtime that goes with running a newly created private school is fine with Giannone. A speech-language pathologist for more than 38 years, Giannone has worked in private special education for much of her career. And now, this year, by opening the Speech Academy, she is fulfilling a longtime dream: to open a school that focuses primarily on language intervention.
“I’ve always wanted to start my own private program that was flexible enough for me to try some of the programming I wanted to do,” she explained. “I’ve felt for a very long time there was a need for more individualized language intervention for the kids who need it. For years when I was working in private schools I would hear that a kid was making progress in speech, but it wasn’t transferring to reading or language arts or other areas. And when you look at it, we’re all working on the same thing. I knew there needed to be a place where these efforts could be more coordinated. So I created it.”
Coordinating these efforts is exactly what the Speech Academy (SA) does. Open to students ages 5–14, SA’s mission is to focus first on the communication and language needs of its students and then bring in academics. Students with speech and language, learning, auditory processing, apraxia, and social skills challenges receive a minimum of two hours of one-on-one speech intervention each day. The goals are carried over throughout the day by the school’s four SLPs, two speech-language pathology assistants, two special education teachers, and occupational and physical therapists. Speech fluency drills are individualized and targeted at the beginning of each class throughout the school day. Academic goals are determined based on a student’s speech and language functioning levels.
Thorough speech-language and academic assessments are administered at the beginning of the academic year to determine the coordination required for one-on-one and small group instruction. In addition to the intensive services the students receive during the six-hour school day, each student also has a home component—families are expected to carry over the exercises in the student’s home life. (“Our families are very good about carry-over,” Giannone said.)
This language-driven approach to special education is finding followers. SA opened in September 2010 with seven students. Now, 10 months later, that number has almost tripled. Twenty students enrolled for the summer program and many will return in the fall. The increase could be the result of several factors (word getting out, parental inquiries, students being referred, etc.), but it’s clear from data collected daily and anecdotal success that SA may be just what some students need to progress.
“I knew the children would make gains—I designed the program so that they would—but the rate has been surprising and very positive,” said Giannone. “Parents are consistently reporting that their children are making progress at home, too.”
For the current academic year, Giannone is expanding SA to include a high school program, an after-school social pragmatics program, an enhanced home component with additional staffing, and a new computer lab. Giannone also is developing an alliance between the academy and a nearby university that will allow some SA students to take college-level courses, either online or on campus, with the support of SA staff.
The ultimate goal for students at SA is to return to a mainstream school—in fact, there’s even a transition classroom within the SA that prepares the students for a mainstream setting—Giannone and her staff work hard with each student to help each function successfully and make progress.
“I think it’s a school whose time has come,” Giannone said, “where one program integrates all the academics and therapies and gets the most progress from these children. It’s what they need to succeed.”
Toni L. Giannone, MS, CCC-SLP, is the founder and director of The Speech Academy in Monroe, Conn. Contact her at tonigiannone@optonline.net.
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August 2011
Volume 16, Issue 10