NASHVILLE, Tenn. – As Putnam County students and teachers settle into summer break, Tennessee State University alumna Patti Marquis is beginning a new chapter in her life after 31 years of working for the school system.
Marquis, a speech pathologist, began her career in the county schools in 1984 after moving to Cookeville from Oklahoma, where she had obtained a bachelor’s degree in English secondary education from the University of Oklahoma.
Marquis received her master’s degree in speech pathology from TSU in the mid-1990s. She has seen changes in the field of speech pathology throughout her career, including more paperwork, but also better identification of students who need services as well as more awareness to help students.
“It’s hands on,” she said. “No matter what you learn in school, you’re always getting ideas from others. Your tool box grows and grows.”
Marquis learned about speech pathology from a friend who was working for the school system at the time and obtained her certification in speech and hearing from Tennessee Tech.
“I found I really loved it,” Marquis said of speech pathology from her classroom at Cane Creek Elementary School last week. “It’s an opportunity to work with children, to give them a voice, to work with families and to share strategies to help children.”
Marquis has served as one of the 13 speech pathologists and speech therapists who work in Putnam County schools.
“I really consider it a ministry,” she said. “It’s been an amazing blessing to me.”
Each of them works with anywhere from 65 to 100 students per year.
Of working with 30 to 40 kids per day, Marquis said, “It is really working on all levels of communication, articulation, fluency, voice problem. Language is a big component in working with children who have minor speech problems to autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy. It’s a wide variety.”
Just three days before her last day as a full-time speech pathologist, Marquis was working with pre-kindergarten students on naming animals through a sorting activity that helps students with word retrieval and building general vocabulary skills. Even in retirement, she plans to maintain her work in speech pathology on a contract basis with the school system.
Marquis has worked with pre-kindergarten students through high school and has seen the effects of her work through many of the kids she’s followed from preschool to graduation.
Just last week, Marquis attended a graduation party for a young man on the autism spectrum whom she worked with as a preschooler.
“That was really sweet,” she said.
One tool she’s used successfully over the years is PECS, or Picture Exchange Communication System, which can help students who don’t communicate verbally at all be able to transition to a regular classroom.
“We set up the environment where they have to communicate in some way,” she said. “Bubbles are a preschool speech teacher’s best friend.”
Marquis recalled one activity where she was blowing up a balloon and letting it go, prompting one boy to say his first words to her, “Let go.”
And she’s received feedback from parents on how what she’s doing has helped their kids.
“They’ll say, ‘They (students) talked to their grandparents on the phone, and they could actually understand them.
“Communication is such a part of who we are as human beings, to help with a piece of that, is beyond rewarding.”
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With more than 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.