Katy Baron grew up in River Forest, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. As an undergraduate, she studied sociology at The College of Wooster, where she also played field hockey—a sport she has been involved with, either as a player or coach, for over twenty years.
“Playing field hockey taught me perseverance,” Katy says. “And coaching taught me patience, creativity, team-building, and how to stay enthusiastic and motivate others.” Unsurprisingly, these skills have proven to be invaluable off the field in Katy’s vocation as a speech-language pathologist.
Upon finishing college, Katy worked as a Camp Coordinator at Camp Jewell in Colebrook, Connecticut, then served on the National Civilian Community Corps for AmeriCorps. One commonality tied these disparate professional experiences together. “I was always involved with teaching children,” Katy notes.
In 2013, Katy began teaching in a more formal capacity when she volunteered for Child’s Voice, an oral education school near Chicago that is, along with OVV, one of only eight Moog-trained programs in the United States. There, she quickly fell in love with the kids in the program and became fascinated with deaf education, particularly the work of Listening and Spoken Language Providers.
“When I learned that kids who are deaf can learn to listen and speak with cochlear implants, I was immediately curious and wanted to know more,” Katy recalls. “I knew right away this was the population I was most interested in working with.”
Inspired by this experience, Katy decided to get a masters in Speech-Language Pathology from Nazareth College in Rochester, New York. It was during her preparations for graduate school that she made a startling and eye-opening discovery: she too had hearing loss.
“While I was taking my pre-requisite courses prior to applying to my master’s program, I learned that I had some bilateral sensorineural hearing loss in the high frequencies,” she explains. Thankfully, Katy’s hearing loss is only mild-to-moderate. Nevertheless, it has given her greater insight into her students’ struggles, one that she feels has made her a more effective—and more empathetic—educator.
“My hearing loss doesn’t necessarily diminish my quality of life,” she says. “But it’s definitely given me a different lens to look through that allows me to relate more closely to my students and their parents.”
After earning her masters, Katy took a position at a public school in Oak Park, Illinois. Although she enjoyed the job, her caseload didn’t include any children with hearing loss. She was eager to work with the population that had originally inspired her to become a Speech-Language Pathologist.
Then, after searching for job openings at a variety of option schools, Katy discovered that Ohio Valley Voices was hiring a Listening and Spoken Language Provider. She applied and was hired within the week.
“I interviewed and accepted the job within a week of finding out the opportunity was available,” Katy recounts. “Two weeks later, I moved to Cincinnati not knowing what to expect but sensing deep down that it was the right step for me.”
Katy joined the OVV team in August of 2017. Since then, she has held positions as an LSL provider in both the preschool and early elementary programs (called the Discovery and Learning Centers, respectively). Now working in the Learning Center, she focuses on building her students’ confidence, filling in gaps to prepare them for mainstream schools, and, of course, making lessons fun and engaging.
But Katy acknowledges that being an LSL provider isn’t easy. Every child has unique needs and a distinctive learning style, and no two days are alike.
Katy says it’s especially difficult to connect with students on a social-emotional level when they have not yet developed the skills to communicate verbally and non-verbally. Still, she sees this challenge primarily as an opportunity to improve her teaching skills and form deeper bonds with her students.
“It’s motivated me to research outside the box to find ways to connect with my students, understand what makes them tick, and know how I can keep them excited to learn,” she reflects. “My most challenging students have provided me with the most growth as a therapist, and I’m grateful for this.”
If there’s one theme that unifies Katy’s Ohio Valley Voices experience so far, it is this. Simply put, facing each day’s obstacles with courage and creativity has made her a better teacher. She explains:
“Working at OVV has made me a stronger and more confident therapist because you have to be innovative, flexible, and willing to think on your feet at any moment throughout the day. I’ve learned so much about establishing expectations, behavior management, and going with the flow over the last four years. These are skills I’ve acquired and continue to improve upon every day.”
In other words, hard work yields huge rewards—a lesson that’s as true for students as it is for teachers. According to Katy, the most gratifying thing about teaching at OVV is witnessing those ah-ha moments when students overcome personal hurdles and become more competent communicators.
“The most rewarding part is seeing how excited one of my students is because he or she has just reached a huge milestone,” she says. “When they realize they’re producing a speech sound correctly for the first time, you see their confidence skyrocket!”
Katy traces these successes back to OVV’s educational philosophy. The combination of small class sizes, individualized care, and research-backed intervention means that each student spends his or her day in a language-enriched environment optimal for learning how to listen and speak.
“Now that I’ve been here for over five years and seen my students progress from preschool to graduation, it’s clear to me that the amount of time I get to spend on intervention pays off,” Katy observes. “I see my students in groups of two or three for three or four 30-40 minute sessions every day, which adds up to about two and a half hours of speech and language therapy per day per student.”
Outside of teaching, Katy’s hobbies include hiking, swimming, and playing board games with her partner Trent and his four children Jayden, Zeke, Eli, and Maddie. An avid traveler, she also enjoys visiting new places and immersing herself in the local music, cuisine, and scenery. During a recent trip to Alaska, she demonstrated the competitive edge that once made her a fierce field hockey player.
“It was my first time fishing, and we managed to catch twenty-three pounds of halibut,” she boasts. “I was proud I caught the biggest one!”
Whether she’s fishing, playing field hockey, or providing speech-language therapy, Katy approaches every task with a singular blend of tenacity and optimism, pushing herself and others to excel even as she exudes patience and compassion. In addition to these, there is one other trait that Katy deems essential for classroom work.
“Humor is key—I like to joke with my students and be silly and animated,” she says. “You have to have a lot of energy to keep up with these kids. You have to make it fun!”