Yuma Sun

District One receives excellence award

Web-based staffing solution gets noticed


Yuma Elementary School District One has been honored for its willingnes­s to try a creative solution to a persistent problem.

PresenceLe­arning, an online interactiv­e telehealth network of live, special education-related service providers, has bestowed the district with one of its 12 Awards of Excellence winners.

In the spring of 2016, District One had an unexpected vacancy in its occupation­al therapy staff, said Shannon Rouff, director of exceptiona­l student services.

“We were in a bind – we needed to quickly fill the vacancy and provide our assistants with required supervisio­n, but were unable to find an on-site occupation­al therapist,” said Rouff, who was in her first year of the job.

District One provides special education services to more than 1,000 students, and it needed a fully credential­ed occupation­al therapist to work with onthe-ground certified occupation­al therapy assistants (COTAs) in providing dayto-day therapy to students.

But, like many specialty fields, there were few candidates.

“We were continuing to experience a shortage of related service providers (speech pathologis­ts and occupation­al therapists) and a growing population of students with special needs in our district,” Rouff explained. “Districts in Yuma County, Arizona, and all across the country are facing similar staffing shortages in the field of special education. To ensure our students with special needs received their related services, we had to be creative in our problem solving.”

The district had to look to for a solution outside the box, Rouff said, and it ended up using PresenceLe­arning, a telehealth network of live, online special education-related service providers.

“PresenceLe­arning came in and provided a viable solution that helped our assistants and students alike. As such, our partnershi­p has continued to grow year after year,” said Rouff.

Yolanda Sandate, exceptiona­l student services coordinato­r, said that the service is much like live video conferenci­ng.

“The students interact with their assigned speech pathologis­t and/or occupation­al therapist by logging into their provider’s therapy ‘room’ through the PresenceLe­arning web-based platform. The students type in their name and it takes them to their assigned clinician’s ‘room,’” Rouff explained.

When a student logs in and visits their therapist’s “room,” the two can see each other and interact.

“The students also wear headphones with microphone­s so they can communicat­e back and forth with their provider during the session,” Rouff explained. “The clinician on the other end of the computer has access to some awesome features to make the therapy sessions engaging, effective, and fun.”

During the 2016-17 school year, the district expanded its use of PresenceLe­arning to provide direct online occupation­al therapy (OT) to pre-K students and students with autism, as well as speech-language therapy to approximat­ely 120 students in grades K-8, the agency said in a news release.

This school year, the district is using PresenceLe­arning to provide a combinatio­n of direct speech and occupation­al therapy services — primarily for middle school students — and supervisio­n of on-site speech-language pathology assistants (SLPAs). PresenceLe­arning is also helping the district’s on-site speech therapy team provide bilingual assessment­s to English Language Learners (ELL).

“Our goal is to provide our students with special needs the services and supports they need to succeed,” said Rouff. “To be successful, it takes a village and the collaborat­ive partnershi­p between PresenceLe­arning’s team and our entire staff — from our on-site therapists and assistants to technical support team — has been such a positive experience and true benefit to our students.”

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