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Working in the city’s public schools as a speech therapist for 29 years, Robinson has spent the last eight at PS 92 in Harlem.
Tell us about the learning issues students bring to your door.
That’s different depending if we’re talking about the lower grades, K-2, or the higher grades, 3-5. In the lower grades, children are not coming in with basic readiness skills in language, such as knowing colors or the sounds of their ABCs and 1-2-3s. They may know animals, especially the difference between a wild animal and a pet. But they don’t recognize the letters for those animals’ names. They don’t know the days of the week or recognize any numbers or have the listening skills for following simple directions. They don’t have socialization skills, often called “pragmatic” skills, such as saying “bless you” or “thank you” or knowing to move to the right when someone is walking toward you.
Is that lack of skills developmental or due to not having support at home?
It can be either or both. I don’t know how students were determined to be special education students. I have a large kindergarten population this year, which means they already came in with IEPs. The IEP will have psychological and speech and language reports and information about why services were recommended, which gives us a bigger picture of the child. But it is not our job to make any kind of diagnoses. These would have to come from a neurologist or a psychiatrist. Our work is in academics.
And what about the learning issues of higher-grade children?
Older kids have difficulties with answering questions specifically. For example, if I ask them what their favorite food is, they’ll say “McDonald’s” instead of “hamburger.” I didn’t ask them what their favorite restaurant was! I also find that with reading, they tend to tell you how they feel about the book versus giving you the facts. I have to focus them on telling me what went on in the book, not just what they thought of the book, unless I’m asking them specifically about their opinion of the book. Also, upper-grade children like to write the minimum, giving one sentence and leaving out the details. I think that’s because we don’t emphasize writing creatively like we used to; we use the Internet for everything.
So now Sandy Robinson steps in...
My role is to bridge the gap between children’s delays and what’s happening in the classroom. It’s about being a support to their teachers and also to parents, helping them with how to work with their children at home to reinforce the strategies they’re learning with me as well as in the classroom. The essence of my job is to teach children to listen better, speak better, write better; to comprehend. That’s what a speech and language provider does. I love my work.
How do those goals translate into your everyday work?
I have eight sessions a day of meeting a child individually or in groups of up to three kids. They’re grouped according to their functional and academic levels, especially in accordance with their IEPs, not grade level. So a 3rd-grader could be with 5th-graders and so on. Occasionally, for logistic reasons, I will go into a classroom for a language lesson, but that’s rare. However, I do a lot of networking about strategies with classroom teachers, phys ed teachers and occupational and physical therapists, which is vital.
What are the obstacles to those goals?
Paperwork! I continue to love my job after 29 years but I don’t like the bureaucratic changes of the IEPs and the new computerized SESIS program. I absolutely believe in accountability, but there’s got to be a better way. It takes away from the real work, of working with children, which is joyful work. I’ve never had any obstacle when it comes to working with children.
What was a great moment for you?
When one of my students was the youngest student in New York City to win a proclamation from the City Council for his poster in the contest for Better Speech and Hearing Month. It said, “I have a dream... of being fluent in speech.”