St. Cyprian’s Episcopal School will hold an open house for its new Pre-School Language Program from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 20. Parents of children identified with language and communication delays will be introduced to this specialized, language-enriched program for young children.

“There are children in our community who will benefit from an intensive language based educational environment to improve their language and communication skills,” Dr. Sherry Durham, Head of School for St. Cyprian’s, said. “Early intervention is critical to improving language acquisition and development, which is why we are focusing on 3 to 5 year olds.

“Our goal with this program is to equip students with skills to transition into mainstream classrooms with fewer support services than would be needed had they not been enrolled in this program,” she said.

The work to bring the program to St. Cyprian’s began after a discussion with Loren Lowe whose 4-year-old son was diagnosed with language disorders when he was 18 months old.

In her efforts to help her son, Lowe enrolled him in a special language school in Houston. Since last summer, Lowe has been living in Houston during the week and commuting back to Lufkin on the weekends so the family, her husband, son and infant daughter, could be together.

“My child cannot understand what is said to him and cannot communicate back to me at an age-appropriate level,” Lowe said. “He had no words at 2 years old. He has normal to above-average intelligence, but, for example, he could not tell me what he ate for lunch today. He knows but he cannot comprehend my question to him and cannot focus his brain to tell me back.  This results in frustrations for him and social isolation because he cannot communicate with his peers. He was having trouble in the mainstream school/daycare environment because of this. He had incredibly low self-esteem at age 3.”

Lowe approached Durham about bringing a program of similar magnitude to Lufkin in order to offer a program to other families who may not be able to access the instruction available in the Houston school. The two discussed what the needs and the costs would be to offer such an in-depth program in Lufkin. After determining the details, Lowe wrote a grant request to the T.L.L. Temple Foundation, and earlier this year received notice it had been approved.

In partnership with Stephen F. Austin State University, each Pre-School Language Program classroom will be taught by a master’s level speech language pathologist, who also has certifications from the American Speech and Hearing Association. The instructors will be assisted by paraprofessionals and graduate speech pathologist interns.

The academic curriculum for the class will be the same used by St. Cyprian’s preschool classes with the addition that the teachers focus intensely on using researched language and communication approaches in all instructional practices. The classrooms will be limited to 10 students each to maintain a low student-to-teacher ratio, Durham said.

Lowe said while there are both private speech language pathologists and public school programs for speech delays, neither can quite fill the need that the new program at St. Cyprian’s will be able to provide.

In her grant request, Lowe wrote, “private speech therapy is effective but does not provide the peer modeling that is so important to appropriate social and language development.”

The PreSchool Language Program classrooms at St. Cyprian’s will separately engage in classroom studies for an enriched language environment but will merge with mainstream peer groups for other activities such as art, music, recess and lunch to ensure appropriate peer modeling.

Lowe said parents do not always recognize the signs of language and communication delay. Sometimes they are masked by the discipline problems a child displays. In many cases the discipline issues are a direct result of the communication and language delays.

SFA speech language pathologist Lydia Richardson said children who could benefit from the program may have a history of low birth weight, chronic ear infections, delayed developmental milestones from birth, such as crawling, walking and talking late and a family history of communication delays. Children also often exhibit a difficulty maintaining attention to task, especially in a group; limited verbal communication, difficulty interacting with peers, difficulty exhibiting appropriate play and delayed or awkward motor skills.

“These are a list of possible signs,” Richardson said. “Children will go through an admissions process in which they will be tested for specific levels of language/cognitive skills.”

Speech language pathologists explain this is not a problem that children will grow out of or can be resolved in a regular school classroom. Identifying it and beginning to provide the right educational tools before the age of 5 is key, Richardson said.

With the grant and donations for the program, the cost for parents will be equivalent to the cost of regular daycare. There also will be scholarships available.

Parents are invited to the open house to find out more about the program and talk with professionals about their child. Durham and the teachers will be available to set up testing dates for children.

For more information contact Durham at St. Cyprian’s at 936-632-1720.

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