By Pamela Dozois
“Communication is everything,” said Leslie Franklin, a speech and language pathologist who is retiring this month after working for the Santa Barbara County Education Office for 32 years.
“As a preschool speech/language specialist, I have worked with children in private and public (Head Start and state) preschools, daycare providers’ homes, and home visits, and it has been a very rewarding career,” she said. “I have been working on the campus of the Santa Ynez Valley Presbyterian Church for 30 years.”
Born and raised in Detroit, Franklin graduated from the University of Michigan in 1979, then acquired her master’s degree in Speech/Language Pathology from UCSB in 1981.
“It was a very grueling program in Michigan,” she said. “I spent many hours in the library because perfection was required. This profession is in very high demand and it is very difficult to get into graduate school – a 4.0 average was virtually required for entry.”
Franklin had intended to complete her master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin/Madison but she learned about UCSB from a classmate who came into an upper-division class with the course manual.
“It turned out that UCSB was the most affordable option and a very highly regarded program,” she continued. But they only accepted about 8 to 10 of their 350-plus applicants. I got in!”
Speech pathology was a direction Franklin had wanted to take from childhood.
“When I was 6 years old, my father had a massive stroke that left him with hemiparesis and language deficits (aphasia). My mother would take me with them to rehab and was constantly pointing out what a wonderful job the speech/language pathologist had. She was trying to discourage me from following in her footsteps as a nurse.
“I decided that’s what I would do, never associating the speech and language pathologist at my elementary school, who was trying to correct my frontal lisp, with the woman I saw at the hospital. Grown-ups would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up and I would confidently say, ‘speech and language pathologist’ (with my lisp), and they would be nonplussed,” Franklin recalled.
Realizing that no public school jobs were available when she graduated from UCSB, she went to work for the Santa Barbara branch of the Devereux Foundation in 1982. This branch, which is now closed, was a residential school for emotionally disturbed and intellectually disabled adolescents.
“I worked there for five years. The pay was very low but I had an unobstructed ocean view from my large office and dictated my reports on a Dictaphone, for the secretary to transcribe. Times have changed!” she said wistfully. “While working there I experienced some memorable and occasionally terrifying moments. The staff was mostly in our 20s, and we bonded, protecting each other’s backs. I am still good friends with four of my former co-workers.”
Franklin said she was thrilled to be offered a position with the Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO) in December 1987. She was first assigned to preschool special day classes in Orcutt and Santa Maria. But as state funding increased for early intervention, the Preschool Specialist Division was greatly expanded. “I was so fortunate to be assigned to the Santa Ynez Valley,” she said.
Franklin has worked with students in all of the valley’s public and private preschools. She also worked at home daycare centers and with children not yet in preschool. She says she has been out to ranch properties and every neighborhood in every town in the valley, Lompoc, Orcutt, Santa Maria and some areas in Santa Barbara as well.
“As preschool speech/language specialists we work with children in private and public areas, sometimes having to make home visits. In recent years we have been discouraged from the home visits due to the inefficiency of the travel and some potential danger in certain homes and neighborhoods,” Franklin continued. “I’ve been in some dicey situations.”
“Preschoolers are in a language explosion phase where they are rapidly acquiring words and language structure, so they are very stimulable. They are eager to correct their sounds and enjoy learning new things. I read to them, teach them games and instill in them a love of books. The best thing about preschoolers is how eager they are to be connected with you and participate in the activities. Everything is new to them. They are just so much fun,” Franklin said.
“Learning to communicate with others is critical. I have had some very bright children with advanced vocabulary and language skills but whose speech was completely unintelligible,” she recalled. “They could not let their teacher know what they wanted or needed, and classmates would walk away from them when they didn’t understand. Can you imagine how frustrating it would be for that child to be unable to get even basic points across?
“I have had some of these children make such rapid progress within six to eight months. They learned to correct all of their sounds and become completely understandable. One mother said to me that having her child in therapy was life-changing and made all the difference in the world.”
Franklin feels she has been extremely fortunate to be based in the Santa Ynez Valley because the families have been wonderful to work with. “They have been responsive, supportive, and invested in helping their children and diligent in doing homework assignments. I am often in the community doing some grocery shopping or whatever and a former parent will approach me saying, ‘I don’t know if you remember my daughter, but you made such an impact on her life. I feel that her success in kindergarten and beyond was due to your hard work,’” Franklin continued.
“My colleagues in other parts of the county have had each other to collaborate and decompress with. I was more isolated, but I was extremely fortunate to be adopted by the preschool teachers at the Santa Ynez Presbyterian Preschool. They have been so supportive, and I have developed friendships with many teachers over the years. They have made all the difference in my career and I am very grateful to have been on this wonderful campus all these years,” said Franklin.
“I will miss my SBCEO colleagues, my preschool teachers at all of my sites, students and families, but I have plans to keep my hand in,” said Franklin. “I plan on volunteering at two of my sites as a guest story-teller. I am also a library volunteer and active in community theatre (Santa Maria Civic Theatre). I want to travel and go to my gym classes as much as possible while I’m still ambulatory, and I also want to write my trilogy novel that has been percolating in my mind for 10 years.”
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