Beaverton speech pathologist brings communication, confidence to special needs kids
Beyond the standard elementary school curriculum, Jessi Lynch helps her students learn to communicate wants and needs, tell jokes and interact with the world both inside and outside of her classroom.
Lynch, as a speech pathologist in the Beaverton School District, works directly with about 50 students at Sexton Mountain and McKinley elementary schools, creating lessons, visuals, pictures and stories that help children with difficulties talking or communicating nonverbally.
“Communication is vital to be an independent and self-confident person,” Lynch said. “We get to help them be their own little person and say what they want and don’t want.”
The Beaverton School District offers specialized classrooms for students with autism or other communication struggles. Lynch’s classrooms have students from kindergarten to the fifth grade, meaning she’s teaching students at all levels of communication skills and maturity in one space.
While this might sound like a massive undertaking, Sexton Mountain principal Cherie Reese said having students from all levels in Lynch’s classrooms is what makes this special education program truly special, allowing Lynch to connect with each student on a deeper level over her last 15 years with the district.
“Part of the beauty of it is the connection,” Reese said. “Kids come in in kindergarten, and she works with them through the years and gets to see their progress.”
Lynch, Reese said, “is a dedicated professional educator.”
“She cares deeply about the kids that she works with,” said Reese. “She is very focused on making learning fun and embedding the goals the kids are working on in communication in activities that are exciting and engaging.”
Students learn the skills to express their feelings, wants and needs and how they learn best while under Lynch’s teaching — not just in typical lessons, but all kinds of different activities and lessons throughout the day.
“I get to play all day,” Lynch laughed.
She added, “We are able to infuse learning in all kinds of things, and they benefit from the repetition in all different areas. … It’s fun to be able to see them grow like that.”
Lynch started her professional career after obtaining her undergraduate degree in music therapy, working with small groups of children. Music therapy is used more in end-of-life care, Lynch said, but where she found joy and fulfillment was in working with kids.
“This is my group,” she said. “These are the kids I want to be working with.”
Lynch went back to school to get her graduate degree at Portland State University. She has been with the Beaverton School District since.
Students working on their communication skills with Lynch learn the basics, and the core curriculum, but they also work on how to request, protest, comment and tell jokes.
Lynch said some of her students aren’t tuned in to their surroundings in a way that allows them to naturally gain these skills, while others may be overwhelmed by so much going on that they miss these key aspects of learning social communication and cues.
“We have to get creative to make a situation authentic and get that repetition,” Lynch said. “We figure out what each kid is interested in and use that to get their attention and play.”
She calls special attention to what is the same, and what is different, what is expected and what is unexpected in these different lessons, which sometimes focus on all the different cultural celebrations Beaverton School District’s diverse student body celebrates.
“I’m able to bring that into circle time, and they get to share that with their peers and celebrate,” Lynch said.
Outside of keeping her students engaged, Lynch is working with other teachers and staff, families and sometimes outside therapists to ensure that repetition and learning continues outside the classroom.
“She’s really a person who goes above and beyond,” Reese said.
Now that Lynch and her students are back in the classroom, she says her personal story is intertwined with Beaverton schools and her students over her last 15 years of speech pathology.
“Any way we can get the word out: These kids deserve just as much as anybody else,” she said.