Going the Extra Mile: Q&A with School Principal and CCC-SLP Denise Lancaster

As principal of Deep Run Elementary School in Howard County, Maryland, Denise Lancaster knows what it means to serve all children from preschool through 5th grade. And she also has a hidden advantage: she’s an ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist (SLP) with an intimate understanding of what is involved in supporting Deep Run’s students with autism and learning disabilities. Because Denise has been in her colleagues’ shoes and knows how well their certification education and training have prepared them, she highly values her team of three ASHA-certified SLPs.

We sat down with Denise to discuss the benefits of employing ASHA-certified SLPs and the positive impact they have in schools.

ASHA: Why do you think ASHA-certified SLPs are a top choice for the classroom?

Denise: There is a high level of professionalism that comes from so many parts of what is required to become a certified speech-language pathologist. Included in the required coursework are ethics courses, science courses, statistics and a clinical fellowship year when you are working under the supervision of a certified speech-language pathologist to make sure you are correctly applying what you learned.  Then, there is the national exam to pass.

There are so many levels of competence one has to show in order to not only earn one’s Certificate of Clinical Competence, but also maintain it. In this county almost every speech-language pathologist is certified. So principals always know the SLPs they hire have had the training, coursework and practicum hours to effectively address the needs of students.

ASHA: What role do ASHA-certified SLPs play at Deep Run?

Denise: SLPs are valued members of the special education team servicing students from preschool through fifth grade.  They assess and provide valuable input in determining educational disabilities. The SLPs provide direct therapy services to students in and out of the classroom setting. If teachers have students who are not making expected progress, teachers can seek support from a problem solving team. I make sure we have an SLP as a member of this team because they have expertise in language acquisition and knowledge of the foundations for reading development. In that role, the SLP in the building is providing and sharing her expertise and offering consultation to teachers in addition to providing direct therapy hours.

ASHA: What impact have they had on children?

Denise: One of my biggest examples comes from a kindergartener with autism who came to the school this year. He’s a dual-language learner, Spanish at home and English at school. He didn’t have an effective way to communicate, which really impacted his behavior. His needs weren’t being met because he couldn’t communicate them.

Now, thanks to one of our SLPs, she created a low-tech communication system with pictures that he can reference. As he became proficient using pictures to communicate his needs, we began to see a decline in his bad behavior and an increase in his interaction with his peers. Providing him with a communication system he is able to use, as well as training all of the adults involved, has made a huge difference in his success in school. His parents were also trained so now he has an effective communication for the home environment.