Cap Guard Meets Michelle Breitweiser, MS, CCC-SLP
Tell me about your professional background and experience. I have been a school based SLP for 7 years. (About to start my 8th) I began my career in Bel Air, Maryland and worked in Harford County Public School before relocating back to NJ where I grew up! This is my 3rd year working at Southern Regional Middle School. I have worked at all levels of schooling. Early intervention (birth to 3), elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. I have worked with a wide variety of students with various disabilities.
What concerns do you have about returning back to school and the risks of COVID-19 transmission?
I have many fears and concerns about returning to school this year. I have a one year old at home so of course keeping him safe and healthy is my number one priority. Southern is planning a hybrid return to school this year, which in my opinion is very smart. We are a large district and splitting the days the students come in will help reduce class sizes and crowded hallways. Parents also have the option to have their kid be virtual only. Southern has been doing a great job following CDC guidelines and making sure everyone is safe. Other concerns of mine are regarding my small office space, group sessions, managing and creating a schedule that works, fitting in my virtual sessions, and assessing students.
Teachers and SLP’s that have returned to school and are wearing masks all day have already complained about chapped faces and lips, hoarse voices, facial breakouts, and dehydration from not drinking enough as it’s hard to sip water while wearing a mask. Which of these (one, some, or all) present concerns to you? Most of them are concerning to me.
How do you feel about the risk of students touching their faces and possibly self-infecting as a result?
It is inevitable that students will touch their faces. I am just constantly encouraging them to use hand sanitizer or to wash their hands.
If you have done any assessments or therapy since March, describe your experiences thus far with evaluations and therapy sessions in which students came to your session wearing masks.
I worked the ESY program in July and August. I provided speech therapy to middle school and high school students. I was set up in a large classroom with plexiglass and cleaning supplies. The students sat behind plexiglass and wore masks. After every speech session our custodial staff would come and clean the desks and plexiglass. I felt very safe.
Did the students eventually fidget with and/or remove their masks, and how did you feel when students removed their masks or touched their faces? To my surprise, most of the students were okay with wearing their masks. They had fun masks with their favorite characters or cartoons, which led to great conversation topics. Some students needed reminders to keep their masks up, but they almost always complied with the direction.
Why is it so critical for you to be able to see a student’s mouth movement and facial expressions?
When working on a student’s articulation of speech it is very important to see their oral structures to witness how and why they may be producing a sound incorrectly.
Why is it so critical for a student to be able to see your mouth movement and facial expressions?
A large part of speech therapy is providing a model for the student to copy/imitate. It is crucial when working on articulation of speech for a student to see and observe the SLPs mouth and oral mechanisms.
If both SLP and student wore face shields, describe how this would improve assessments and treatment plans. Having a clear face shield for both SLP and student would greatly benefit during this time. Having the students see my mouth and being able to see the student’s mouth would be ideal. It may take a longer amount of time to master a goal if both the SLP and student have coverings/masks over their mouths. A face covering with no visibility to mouth movements make speech therapy very challenging. Some kids rely on lip movements and facial expressions to effectively communicate with others.