Summer speaking sessions

U.P. Children’s Therapy Summer Speech Program aims to help ‘bridge the gap’ for dozens of local children while school’s out

MARQUETTE — The summer presents many opportunities for children to learn and grow.

Through U.P. Children’s Therapy Summer Speech Program, children with speech needs in Marquette and around the central Upper Peninsula had a chance to continue building on speech and language skills they’ve learned throughout the school year, giving them the opportunity to go back to school ahead of where they left off.

The yearly program, which takes place over six weeks and came to a close for the summer Wednesday, aims to “bridge the gap” over the summer, organizers said.

“Receiving speech therapy over the summer ensures that a student will continue to practice skills they are learning and prevent regression,” said Amber Argall, a speech-language pathologist at Superior Rehabilitation & Professional Services who works for the U.P. Children’s Therapy Summer Speech Program. “Typically, if a student does not receive speech therapy over the summer, the likelihood that they are working on their speech/language goals is slim. Summers are busy and most kids aren’t overly motivated to work on ‘speech’ at home.”

Children in the program are typically those who have been identified as having speech needs by their schools, speech therapist or doctor, UPCT founder David Aro said.

“The younger we can get them — and this program usually sees kids between the ages of 3 and 12 — the faster we can help them resolve their issues,” Aro said.

For many children, the twice-weekly 30-minute sessions help them continue work they did during the school year through an individualized educational program, as speech therapists receive the child’s IEP and give the child summer programming based on the IEP, Aro and Argall said.

“Speech and language skills are like any other skills, practice makes perfect,” Argall said. “Especially when learning a new speech sound, continued practice is essential to creating a solid motor plan and generalizing the new sound into spontaneous speech.”

Roughly 40 students have attended the program this year at locations in Marquette, Gwinn, Ishpeming, and Escanaba, Aro and Argall said, noting that progress reports are done on each visit to give speech therapists, schools and parents a measurable idea of what children have learned over the six weeks.

“Although I haven’t analyzed my data yet, I would say that all of my students made some gains on their goals over the summer,” Argall said. “I will be recommending that three of them be exited from speech therapy in the fall, as they have met their goals.”

The results of this summer’s sessions have been noticeable for Zac Couvillion’s 3-year-old son, Caden, he said.

“It’s helped a lot, he’s starting to form smaller sentences now and enunciate even bigger words,” Couvillion said.

Caden had been in a head start program during the school year, and the family enrolled him in the summer speech program because they “didn’t want to lose the momentum that we had gained throughout the second half of the last school year with him,” Couvillion said.

Couvillion encourages parents who “have any doubts about their kid’s speech,” to look into the program, as he’s found “it definitely helps.”

While it can help younger children such as Caden, the program can also help older kids, such as 10-year-old Jacy Gillum, who has been coming to the program for around five years.

Within these five years, major strides have been made, said Jacy Gillum’s mother, Ane Gillum.

When Jacy Gillum was in kindergarten, they found “he was kind of withdrawn and didn’t want to talk much and his sentence comprehension was not good,” which led to a referral for UPCT, Ane Gillum said.

In the years since, speech therapy has opened up a new world for Jacy Gillum, who is now full of chatter and questions, Ane Gillum said with a smile.

“It really helps him a lot, it’s opened a very wide learning experience for him,” she said.

She’s grateful for the work of Argall, she said, as Argall has been able to engage Jacy and connect with him by playing games and discussing topics he’s interested in.

Argall’s approach is centered around individual children and their needs for just this reason, she said.

“I use a combination of drill, drill-play, and play-based approaches in therapy,” Argall said. “Sometimes therapy is child-led and sometimes it is clinician-led. What approach I use depends on the age of the child, the child’s goals, his/her attention span, level of engagement and developmental appropriateness. Typically, with preschool age children, therapy is more play-based, focused on perhaps improving intelligibility and a child’s ability to communicate his wants and needs. Older children can generally attend longer and we might incorporate more of a drill-play approach. Most kids attend and engage better when the activity is fun. We often use games to target our goals.”

It’s especially important to offer a summer program like this, Aro said, as it can also help a child’s self-esteem and confidence in interactions with others.

“One of the reasons that this program was started was because we wanted to cut down on things like bullying,” he said.

However, Aro said he understands private in-patient speech therapy can be cost-prohibitive.

Due to this, the UPCT program, at a cost of $100 for six weeks, aims to offer an affordable speech therapy option for families, Aro said, as the sessions provided could cost around $2,000 in regular outpatient speech therapy.

The program is administered by the 501(c)3 nonprofit U.P. Children’s Therapy, which has done so since 2017, and is staffed by Superior Rehabilitation & Professional Services, with the speech therapy offered by its staff at a discounted rate as a donation to the program, Aro said.

The program itself has been offered each summer since the 1990s, with a number of different agencies and organizations, such as the Easter Seals, the YMCA and the Lake Superior Community Partnership acting as fiduciaries, organizers said.

The nonprofit was started by Aro in 2017 to give the program a permanent home and ensure it could be able to continue serving the community, he said. The program has been run in conjunction with NMU with grant funds from the school since 2015, and also partners with NMU and local school districts that provide space for the program.

While program is funded by grants, donations, service fees, as well as fundraising and runs on a “shoestring budget,” with 100% of funds raised going directly into the staffing and materials for the summer speech program, Aro said the program has the capacity to serve more children and hopes to see the number of participants grow in coming years.

To learn more about the program, how to donate or get a child involved for the next summer season, visit srpsup.com/up-childrens-therapy or call the office at 906-401-0040.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.