Millions of children in this country suffer from communication disorders that, if untreated, can affect their academic and personal lives for years. Federal law requires that every child receive speech services, but a national shortage of qualified professionals makes it difficult for schools to meet this mandate. As a result, children in low-income urban and rural communities often suffer delays and poor services—or else school systems are forced to pay exorbitantly for therapists who spend much of their time driving from one school to another.
Co-founders Jack Lynch and Clay Whitehead know firsthand the importance of high quality specialized services to meeting students’ needs. Clay grew up with learning disabilities, and Jack has a cousin with Autism Spectrum Disorder who did not have consistent access to Speech Language Pathology (SLP) services. They founded Presence Learning in 2009 to address the growing SLP shortage by using current technology to connect SLPs with students for live therapy via the web. Both SLPs and students benefit from the program’s video conferencing capabilities, engaging activities, and collaboration and practice management tools. Presence Learning believes enabling technology and new service delivery models have tremendous opportunity to ease the shortage of specialized personnel, ensure more consistent and higher quality of service for all students and improve academic outcomes.
Presence Learning’s work proves that technology and distributed labor networks can effectively meet the needs of underserved students. Over 30,000 telepractice sessions have been held in classrooms around the country, and over 40 academic studies have proven that telepractice can be just as effective as face-to-face therapy. During the 2009-2010 school year, Presence Learning piloted the program with the Fall River Joint Unified School District in Burney, CA. Eighty-six percent of the 42 students improved significantly and 14% transitioned from their required program early because of the gains made.
How NewSchools Helped:
NewSchools has played a role in management assistance by introducing Presence Learning to potential clients, including charter management organizations and a special education cooperative (SELPA), and to high-caliber independent director candidates. NewSchools has also helped Presence Learning think through its growth strategy, specifically with how to prioritize opportunities and expand the organization to adapt to potential growth. “NewSchools has been an indispensable partner to us. Whether it is helpfully thinking through a difficult issue in a board meeting, or opening doors for us nationally, they have shown a deep commitment to our mission.”