SLP’s Work Fills Preschool Void Agency Focuses on Early Intervention In the Limelight
In the Limelight  |   September 01, 2011
SLP’s Work Fills Preschool Void
Author Notes
  • Kellie Rowden-Racette, print and online editor for The ASHA Leader, can be reached at
    Kellie Rowden-Racette, print and online editor for The ASHA Leader, can be reached at×
Article Information
Special Populations / Early Identification & Intervention / School-Based Settings / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   September 01, 2011
SLP’s Work Fills Preschool Void
The ASHA Leader, September 2011, Vol. 16, 28. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.16112011.28
The ASHA Leader, September 2011, Vol. 16, 28. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.16112011.28
Melissa Puchalski, MS, CCC-SLP
Name: Melissa Puchalski, MS, CCC-SLP
Title: Director of Education, North Country Kids, Inc.
Hometown: Plattsburgh, New York
When growth and success come from meeting a critical need, they can only be celebrated. That sums up how Melissa Puchalski views the growth of the early intervention and preschool agency she helped create in upstate New York in 2004. Since North Country Kids opened its doors, it has expanded from providing community early intervention and preschool services to running several preschool classrooms throughout the county. Today the agency serves 60 early intervention children and 180 preschool children—and the caseload continues to grow.
“We started with one integrated classroom, because we believe in the importance of inclusion,” Puchalski said. “We have since expanded to three classrooms that share this model, and one self-contained classroom serving children with autism spectrum disorders. We have a strong desire to keep this going forward. I’d love to see another classroom if the need arises.”
Since she started out in the agency, serving primarily as a speech-language pathologist providing early intervention services, Puchalski’s role has grown into a supervisory position with some administrative offshoots. Teamwork and best practices are very important, she said, and she spends much of her time ensuring her staff members are familiar with current research. “We are always there for our staff and encourage a team approach,” she said. “We don’t want anyone to feel like they are on their own with any child. We’re all in this together.”
That sense of teamwork and camaraderie has been a strong theme for Puchalski from her earliest years. In high school, she knew wanted to work with kids with special needs and describes herself as “that kid.”
“I was the kid pushing the kid in the wheelchair down the hallway to gym class, and I was the loudmouth who was telling bullies to back off. I was definitely ‘that girl’ who wanted everyone to feel included and wasn’t afraid to say so.”
Her desire to help wasn’t limited to her peers with disabilities. Her high school friends often gathered on a green couch in her bedroom, where they would tell her their problems and she would try to help them. She embraced this role so strongly that she earned her undergraduate degree in psychology from the State University of New York–Courtland in 1989 with thoughts of becoming a psychiatrist. But before continuing in a graduate program, she took a job as a caseworker in downstate New York, near where her husband grew up.
In that capacity she worked with families of children with severe disabilities, alongside specialists such as physical and occupational therapists and, of course, speech-language pathologists. After observing the specialists—particularly the SLPs—work with these children and families, Puchalski knew she wanted to be more hands-on. With her family relocating upstate, she seized the opportunity to earn her master’s degree in speech-language pathology from the State University of New York–Plattsburgh in 1995. She began working in early intervention immediately and hasn’t looked back.
“I find so much joy working with children,” Puchalski said. “The feedback is so instant. Sometimes it’s baby steps, but there’s always so much potential to see big changes.”
“I’m so happy with what we’ve created and how we serve this county,” she continued. “We’re there for our families in every capacity.”
Contact Melissa Puchalski at
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September 2011
Volume 16, Issue 11