Kelly Garcia, MS ‘19
, was well aware, through the training she received at Salus, that speech-language pathologists (SLP) needed to be flexible when it came to serving their students and clients.
But in her first year as a professional after graduating in spring 2019, she was thrust into a situation where she had no choice but to be flexible — how to practice speech therapy during a pandemic.
“My first thought was how am I going to teach speech therapy virtually? It was very overwhelming at the beginning,” said Garcia, a speech therapist for Independence Charter School in Philadelphia. “But then it put me in a situation to learn and kind of gather more experience — we had no choice. You still need to serve the students and we had to find the best way to do that.”
At Independence Charter, that meant going from an in-person model to a virtual model providing speech therapy to students in their homes.
The silver lining was that Garcia was able to develop a closer relationship with the students’ parents, who now had to take on a bigger role in the at-home program.
“It was a challenging situation, especially since I was coming right out of school,” said Garcia. “No one was really prepared for this. But I think it has made a lot of people aware, especially the parents that are now more involved in the speech therapy, what their child is working on and how they can help them.”
Garcia grew up a first-generation Ecuadorian-American in Newark, New Jersey, and quickly became aware of areas, often with a concentrated Hispanic population, that had limited resources when it came to speech-related and English as a Second Language (ESL) resources.
“I wanted to become an advocate and bridge the gap between the Hispanic population and the SLP profession,” she said.
After graduating from Salus, the plan was to secure a job in a Philadelphia school, which she did, with the hopes of creating a program or workshop with resources to help Hispanic families in the Philadelphia area to spot red flags for atypical speech-language development in children.
Although dealing with the pandemic put that second goal on hold for a bit as she concentrates on what her students need immediately, Garcia’s school does have a Spanish Immersion Program and she has had the opportunity to work with Spanish-speaking parents to help educate them on the speech and language field as well as how to help their children strengthen their speech and language skills in Spanish.
“Even though it’s not the program that I have imagined, it is helping the Hispanic population on a smaller scale,” she said.
Garcia spends a lot of time thinking about how she can best help her students and how she can further assist them during the pandemic. But she added it’s not all just about school-related work.
“There’s the speech therapy part, but there’s also the emotional piece that we have to take into consideration,” she said. “We don’t know everyone’s situation, and it’s important to take that into account.”