After the Storm
Our first clinician without previous school-based therapy experience talks about creating a safe space for students affected by Hurricane Ian.
Billie Shaw is the first clinician without previous school-based therapy experience to be hired by Presence. After Billie’s initial training with Presence, she was set to begin work with the school district in Florida she’d been assigned. In September, 2022, Hurricane Ian disrupted those plans when it made landfall in Florida. At the time of this interview, Billie was waiting for students to return to class. She discusses considerations for making the students feel safe and welcome.
I grew up moving around the country because my dad was in the military. My favorite place was Hawai’i. I went to high school in Hawai’i, and I would have stayed there if my parents were staying there, because it was the best place to live. Since I was living on the island of Oahu, I couldn’t easily fly around to campuses on the mainland to decide where I wanted to go to college. I selected a private school in Virginia, and then transferred in my sophomore year to Florida where I got my bachelor’s degree in elementary education. I wanted to be a teacher and taught in my early twenties. I have not done speech therapy in the schools. I have done private practice, and I worked for 12 years at a hospital in an outpatient clinic.
A few fun facts
My passion is teaching reading—I tutor reading on the side. It’s hard for me to think there are people out there who can’t ever read a fabulous book—they can’t just pick up the book they’d like to read and do it. Everyone should have that option.
When I’m not working as an SLP or tutoring reading, I like to drum on the beach. I have a couple of djembes. I’m not particularly good, but it’s still fun to do. Before the COVID pandemic, my friends and I used to go camping a couple of times a year locally—we’d go up into the Ocala National Forest, north of us. Hopefully we will get back there soon.
What inspired you to become an SLP?
I had taken a community sign language course with a friend. I decided that I wanted to get my master’s degree in deaf education, because I loved ASL. I had to take something like 11 courses post baccalaureate to be able to do that. By the time I finished those courses, USF no longer offered a degree in deaf education. However the classes that I took prepared me for speech therapy or audiology. I decided that speech therapy was a lot closer to teaching and I would have more opportunities than in audiology, so that’s the direction I took. Speech therapy is really very similar to teaching in a lot of ways but you get to see more kids and do different things.
You joined the Presence team recently when Presence opened applications up to clinicians without school-based experience. What was the catalyst for you to expand your clinical experience into school-based settings? Why now?
I would have to say it was COVID. I was driving an hour each way to the hospital where I worked. For most of my kids, I was driving an hour to do telehealth. The hospital required us to come in to use the hospital platform.
We had a platform that was good if you wanted to have a face-to-face conversation with your doctor, but it wasn’t good for working with kids. I could show things on my computer, but there could be no interaction with the children. And so, of course, therapy was tedious and boring for everybody. We tried doing different things, but it was really hard to do therapy in that way. There was no digital whiteboard. It was me holding a whiteboard up with the kids having a whiteboard at home and holding it up. So it was really a hard platform to use.
In addition, we were also having management changes and I just started questioning—I was thinking to myself, “We have a global pandemic. I’m driving 2 hours a day to look at the computer and try to get these kids interested in just staring at my face with my little whiteboard.” And so, I decided it was time to go after 12 years. It really was a great place to work for a long time, and it probably is still but all of my people were leaving, and everything had changed. So I left and went to a private practice closer to me, but that actually wasn’t better.
I had also started my own business a couple of years earlier but I wasn’t seeing very many people, because I had a full-time job plus my 2 hour daily drive. At this point, I decided I was just going to do a private practice and I started looking for clients, but then I think I came across some marketing from Presence. I realized I could work from home, and they have training so I decided to explore that.
I also volunteer at my local library for English as a second language—I did the training there, and I did that in grad school. When I was thinking about what I wanted to do, I realized I want to work part-time, and I want to be able to volunteer again at the library because it is so fulfilling for me.
So that’s how I ended up working with Presence.
What are you most excited about using in the platform?
I have middle school students. I’m a big one for reading because I specialized in dyslexia previously, which is my very favorite thing to work on actually. So a lot of times I like to do short stories, and I can have kids draw little illustrations. If I put up a story with no pictures, I can get kids to draw. I don’t know much about the children yet but when you go with their interests you’re going to get more out of them than if you’ve just decided for them, “We’re doing a pirate theme.” If they don’t like pirates, that’s not going to work, especially at that age.
Usually I would do a “getting to know you” process—“This is where I live. This is what I like to do.” I’m trying to figure out how to frame a “getting to know you” activity now in a way that’s not going to be upsetting. They’ve just had a very rough time. The hurricane hit that area really hard. So I’m sure there are scary things that happened to everybody, regardless of how much it affected them individually.
I need to do something a little bit different. I might ask “What are your favorite games or movies?” instead of my usual go-tos like “Do you have any pets?” They might have lost pets in the storm. So I think the first sessions are just going to be getting to know them and getting to know their comfort level with me. That’s going to be where we start.
And I can take data too, so if somebody has a speech sound error, I can be documenting that, and not necessarily saying, “Wait, say that again.” I can still be taking data as to where they are at baseline until we get a rapport going.
I am looking forward to starting and getting going with the students.