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Kids Speaking Out

The importance of oral language skills for children in learning the basics of reading and writing is well understood and remains a key foundation for future of work skills.

Unfortunately, a high proportion of children in the Pilbara are starting pre-primary lacking these crucial oral skills, putting them at a distinct disadvantage when they take on formal schooling.

However, a combination of good fortune and the dogged persistence of one school leader has started to turn the situation around at South Newman Primary School.

Cath Keating, an experienced adult speech pathologist, moved to Newman last year with her husband, who works for BHP, and enrolled her children at South Newman.

When school principal Katie Wallace heard about Cath, she was determined to recruit her to work with at-risk students.

Cath needed time to help her family settle into the community and initially resisted Katie’s job offers.

“It took a while, but I kept at it, and eventually broke her down,” Katie joked.

Cath joined South Newman earlier this year, working part-time with pre-primary and kindy kids, and has made an instant impact, according to Katie.

The young students have all been screened, with about a quarter of them found to have complex speech sound issues. The families of those with development problems have been consulted on individualised therapy plans.

Children initially received one-on-one therapy and most transitioned to weekly group sessions. Key to the success of the program has been enlisting the support of families so therapy can continue at home, as well as giving teachers the skills to help students in their regular classes.

Having a speech pathologist in school is unusual in Western Australia, but Katie is a passionate advocate for the benefits of such a program.

 “The results have been phenomenal in children’s improved reading skills,” she said. “Cath has been a great gift to our school. Early intervention is vitally important.”

The Education Department regional office helped kickstart the program with funding of $14,000, but money will need to be found within the school’s own budget to keep it going.

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