District's specialty staff provide important services to students
Most members of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union—around 76 percent—are classroom teachers. Another 8 percent are guidance counselors, school nurses, school psychologists, and social workers. Close to 6 percent of our membership comprises ancillary positions—those who work in our media centers, alternative learning environments (formerly known as in-school suspension), and security monitors.
The remaining 10 percent is specialty staff. Nine of these staffers work as speech and language pathologists (SLP), occupational therapists (OT), and physical therapists (PT). I had several opportunities to meet with these extraordinary people and learned much about the important work they do with our students.
SLPs, OTs and PTs are trained in their craft and have the expertise to apply their skills in a school setting. They are members of teams that identify students with special needs, and then help create education plans to help these students. They also make periodic assessments to track the progress of these students.
The specialists provide the services to help students function better both in and out of school. They work with students in class, one-on-one, or in small group sessions. They are trained to work with students of all ages, from preschool through high school.
They may provide interventions when learning difficulties are suspected, but a full-out diagnosis may be more than what is needed to get the student back on track.
SLPs help our special-needs students function to the best of their ability. The SLPs know about a myriad of disorders—from communication and voice issues to physical issues, such as swallowing.
OTs help students work on visual and fine motor skills, self-care tasks and executive functions.
PTs work on the functional and physical aspects of a student’s day, which might include adjusting existing equipment, ordering special equipment, and adapting materials to students’ physical needs. In other words, they make school accessible to those students who have trouble with functions that most of us take for granted.
Our related service providers help students learn how to navigate the world, use different tools, understand language and speak, use their bodies to their fullest potential, and more. These specialized professionals can seem invisible in our schools, but have a significant impact on many students.
Decades ago, few people imagined that schools would be providing these special services to children. That was a time when a student who was “different” was often sent to a specialized facility, or had part-time instruction at home. We live in a different era now, and our schools have adapted to serving these needs.
I believe that related service providers perform challenging, but rewarding, work in our schools, with few people knowing these specialists are on staff. As demands for these services rise, I hope that our district can hire more related service providers in the future, and that we figure out the best way to make use of their special expertise.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.