by Beth Waite-Lafever, MA-CCC/SLP-ATP
As a speech-language pathologist and assistive technology specialist, my days consist of evaluating and providing therapy to students, talking to parents, collaborating with teachers and presenting workshops. During a week this past February, I found myself completing the same activities in a non-traditional place: Eleuthera, a small island in the Bahamas. Because of this experience, I am changed.
Last summer I became aware of a nonprofit foundation called Exceptional Education Outreach Bahamas, or EEO. This organization, started by a U.S. special education teacher over 15 years ago, provides resources, teachers, and training for children with learning disabilities on this island. In the Bahamas, special education is not provided by the schools. EEO, through fundraising and volunteerism, provides special education resource teachers, materials, consultation with medical/educational specialists and teacher training to increase the literacy of the students. After speaking with the EEO director, I volunteered to provide speech-language evaluations and teacher training on site. Eleuthera is a small island approximately 110 miles long situated 50 miles east of Nassau. You won’t find casinos or large resorts here; this is an example of an out island and is often referred to as “the real ” Bahamas. Pink sand beaches and turquois water paint a beautiful background. Settled in the 1600’s by British colonists searching for religious freedom, Victorian style influences can be seen in many of the older homes in Governor’s Harbour, the capital of Eleuthera. The island is dotted with small towns along the main highway that has no traffic lights and finds cars driving on the left side.
During my visit, I went to five schools, provided 16 children with speech-language evaluations, conferenced with teachers, and provided a workshop for 25 teachers, principals and parents. My husband, a rehabilitation engineer, updated school computers and solved network issues that allowed teachers to use resources on the Internet.
We found the people of this island to be welcoming and gracious. School buildings resemble single story motels with one classroom behind each door. Students bring their lunch and eat either outside or in their classroom, as there is no cafeteria or gym. Children wear uniforms to school and are very well mannered. Each time I walked into a room the entire class would stop their work to look at me and in unison recite “good morning.” At one school, a teacher offered me her chair and stood beside me all day as we worked with students. The teachers were so eager to learn that they gave up time on a Saturday (some travelling from nearby islands) to attend my training on increasing literacy with students with speech and language issues. Most of the students demonstrated some degree of speech-language delay and suspected learning difficulties. Each teacher and parent was provided with a written summary of findings and recommended activities for strengthening skills.
Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about this experience or remember the smiling faces of the students and teachers. With limited supplies and access to resources, these educators put forth so much effort to better the lives of their students. I continue to get email from teachers and principals sharing stories of student successes! The people of Eleuthera are warm, friendly and genuinely interested in making visitors to their island feel at home. From this experience, I’ve been reminded to slow down to enjoy the simple things in my day and to take time, not only to greet others, but to really listen to them. I started this experience among strangers and ended with friends whom I hope to work with again.
There are several ways you can support the students and teachers of Eleuthera. Visit their website (www.eeobahamas.org) to read about their amazing projects. Use Amazon Smile when you place orders through Amazon and they will make a donation to EEO. Check out their wish list on Amazon and order items that will be shipped to them.
Presenting a 2-hour workshop for educators and parents at Governor’s Harbour Primary School.
A. Gibson Primary School, Hatchet Bay, Eleuthera, one of the schools where I evaluated students and Dave resolved Internet issues.
Completing a speech-language evaluation with a student.