Students, wearing headsets, work with the therapist in pairs at a single computer station.

With speech language pathologists in short supply, the Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) of rural Glenn County in northern California has turned to PresenceLearning to provide online speech therapy services for about 10 Willows Unified School District students.

Vicki Shadd, SELPA director and assistant superintendent for the Glenn County Office of Education, said recent advances in web conferencing technology and great computer infrastructure at Willows Intermediate School have allowed students to work with a live speech therapist online.

“Their response to it has been amazing,” Shadd said.

Shadd said students in grades six through eight have been raised with technology, making them especially receptive to using computers to work with a therapist.

SELPA started using PresenceLearning at the end of the last school year and has received outstanding results.

Feedback from parents, students, and staff has been positive, Shadd said.

While Shadd believes computers will never take the place of educators and special-education instructors, PresenceLearning has filled a huge void when it comes to a rural school’s ability to pair speech pathologists with students needing extra help with language development.

“There is a real shortage of speech pathologists,” she said. “Not only are colleges graduating fewer pathologists, but many choose private practice or the medical field rather than education, because it is more lucrative.”

The Glenn County Office of Education has speech therapists on staff to work with students, but the addition of online therapy is a boon, especially when budgets are stretched thin, Shadd said.

PresenseLearning’s online therapist costs the county about $75 per hour.

Students, wearing headsets, work with the therapist in pairs at a single computer station.

In addition to a live therapist online, students are supported by a teaching assistant.