JP special needs program receives national accolades

JP special needs program receives national accolades

METAIRIE, LA (WVUE) - A special needs program that started at Grace King High School is now earning national recognition. It uses a unique approach to get kids communicating, but some are concerned about its future.

Ten years ago, speech therapist Bridget Seals had an idea. Tired of not getting more out of traditional special needs approaches, Seals decided to shed tradition and break out the microphone, where she and the kids found magic. Prior to this approach, kids would often remain in a non-communicative shell.

"We've seen several therapists who weren't enthused, but once they did, they said, 'oh this is great,'" said fellow Grace King speech therapist Millie Mayeux.

After meeting early resistance, Seals persisted, and she just won the Van Hattum award from the Speech Language Hearing Foundation.

"For the most innovative service delivery speech therapy in the country, Jefferson Parish brought it home!" Seals said.

The award could help the broadcast team approach branch out across the country.

"It took a long time for us to get here, and we are so glad we're here now," Seals said.

Even those  who can't  verbalize  their thoughts are now taking part in a daily school broadcast using the latest technology.

"It is one of the most comprehensive voice output apps out there," Mayeux said.

First-year principal Sharon Meggs has become a fan after a career in education where she witnessed more traditional approaches.

"This one has proven to be a great asset to our school, but I can't say it should be mandated," Meggs said.

Whether mandated or not, teachers are adopting the approach, in large part due to Seals' enthusiasm. But after 10 years, she says she's retiring, and that's raising concerns for the future of the program.

"I'm worried, but…I see a lot of good people willing to take it over from her," Mills said.

Seals plans to continue her push to get kids across the country on board, and plans to renew her  effort to get Grace King alum Ellen Degeneres to come in for a special program.

"This is your home, this is Grace King, come see what our kids are doing. You're gonna love it," she said.

But whether 1,000 kids benefit or just one, special ed teachers say it's worth it.

"It's an inspirational program. It makes me inspired to go to work every day," Mayeux said.

Right now, the broadcast approach is being used at 11 Jefferson Parish schools.

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