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Changing the world, one preschooler at a time

Staff Writer | May 4, 2020 1:12 AM

Molly Smart has a dedication to education and communication

COEUR d'ALENE — Working with preschoolers who struggle with communication is already a big job for teachers.

To do that job completely online adds another level of difficulty for speech-language pathologists like Coeur d'Alene Early Learning Center's Molly Smart.

Smart specifically works with preschool students who receive special education services. She's used to sitting with these littles to help them with language, social communication, cognitive-communication and more.

"At the preschool, I work with approximately 55 to 60 kids. I see those kids every day," Smart said Friday. "I was sitting on the floor in classrooms, working with them every day, knee to knee."

Smart has been in this field for 16 years and is in her first year with Coeur d'Alene Early Learning Center, which functions in partnership with North Idaho College Head Start. Smart works one-on-one with students, creating individual learning projects and activities to meet her kids where they are.

"Every kid has different goals they need to work on," Smart said. "I’m trying to reach every single one."

With pandemic closures, she has had to digitally craft those individual plans and schedule phone calls and video conferences to be sure parents are on the same page.

"Parents are doing the best they can, but they're not trained SLPs," Smart said. "Most of what I send home is parent education and videos so the kids can see me."

The students being able to see her face is an important — and familiar — part of their learning.

"All these kids are so young, with disabilities, and they don't all understand what the virtual stuff is," Smart said. "They're still in an age where they think we live at school so this is all new to them. It’s different, for sure."

Smart emphasized the value of helping these kids communicate, and what it means to her to make a difference in their lives.

"Communication is so important in everybody's life. It doesn't matter what kind of communication — that’s how we connect," she said. "I feel like I'm changing lives. Some of these kids come in and they aren't talking at all, and when they leave they're saying things they weren't saying before. It's hard not to like that. We've changed somebody’s life.”

Others have taken notice of Smart's dedication. Preschool coordinator Jenny Gilmore said Smart is the best and goes above and beyond for her students, including how she wrote a 12-page report to help one student obtain their own personal speech-generating device.

"All of her interactions with parents, students and staff are friendly and demonstrate general caring and respect," Gilmore said. "When Molly walks into the classrooms, students jump up to greet her and are excited to see and work with her. Molly uses playful engagement when working with students to increase their attention to the task and meet their speech/language goals. I thoroughly enjoy working with Molly and she is a huge asset to the school district."

Samantha Hoggatt, a colleague of Smart's and the treasurer for the Coeur d'Alene Education Association, said Smart always makes sure families have what they need.

"Molly checks in with families weekly or more via phone and email," Hoggatt said. "She provides families with themed speech and language material as well as listens to their general concerns. Molly is an amazing educator, is actively involved in the Coeur d'Alene Education Association and is always willing to listen and support her colleagues. She cares about the district, her coworkers and each one of her students and their families."

"I'm just doing my job," Smart said. "I don't know how to do it any other way."

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, a time to give thanks to teachers everywhere. Since 1984, National PTA — a nonprofit that comprises families, students, teachers, administrators and community leaders devoted to the educational success of children and the promotion of family engagement in schools — has designated one week in May as a time to celebrate those who lend their talents to educating America's children.