VWSD speech pathologist takes top spot in state.|[4/12/05]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Outstanding School Clinician of the Year Award from the Mississippi Speech-Language-Hearing Association came as a surprise to Janet Wagner, but not to her colleagues and supervisors.

Wagner, an education veteran of 22 years, is a speech and language pathologist who works for the Vicksburg Warren School District at Beechwood Elementary School.

She was nominated for the state honor by her boss, Susan Bentley, director of the Office of Special Education, and, as the state winner, will be considered for national honor.

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“I picked her because she does a wonderful job with the children,” Bentley said, adding Wagner is also a leader among the other 10 speech and language pathologists in the district.

“I’m just thrilled she is with the system,” said Dr. James Price, superintendent.

Wagner is a native of Maryland and has lived in Warren County since she was in the seventh grade. She received her bachelor’s degree in communicative disorders and master’s in speech pathology from the University of Mississippi and returned to teach in the Vicksburg Municipal Separate School District before it merged with the Warren County School District.

Wagner said she began college as an education major, but found she was not cut out to be a classroom teacher.

“I was working a summer job and at home trying to decide what I could do. I knew I wanted to be with children,” she said. “A friend of mine was taking a class – he was a teacher – to get his hours in, and he was taking a class in speech. I thought that was kind of cool.”

She started at Cherry Street School and later taught at Vicksburg Middle School. She has also taught at Bowmar Avenue, Grove Street and Redwood elementaries and Warren Central High School.

At Beechwood, Wagner works with early-education students and with 3- to 5-year-olds in a clinical setting.

Wagner said there are four categories of speech and language problems she tries to help children overcome.

“There’s articulation, which is speech. Fluency, which is stuttering. Voice (which she said has hoarse, raspy speech) and language,” she said.

She works by referral to improve communication skills of about 60 students at Beechwood, but added that number can vary over the school year.

Price said Wagner’s impact is more than what she admits because she also works with drop-ins and with other children.

“If you could see the faces of these children. They view her more as a mother than they do as an instructor,” Price said.

He said Wagner is able to form a bond with her students that will last the rest of their lives. Price said he finds sitting in a room watching a speech pathologist working with a child uplifting when he has had a bad day.

“They have to form a relationship with the child before they can do their work,” Price continued, adding that often what a speech pathologist is trying to correct requires finding the deeply rooted source of the child’s problem.