“January, January, you’re so fine. February, February, valentine. March, March, March, soon it will be spring. April, April, we just want to sing ... Yeah, yeah, it’s all very clear. I love, I love my months of the year – every day, every day learning my months of the year.”

With the help of teacher Rolanda Staley, her students burst into song last Friday and enthusiastically kept going with their own version of Neil Sedaka’s popular single from 1961.

That was exactly the point. A 14-year speech therapist, Staley is helping 3- and 4-year-olds with their communication and language skills at East Aiken School of the Arts. Last Friday, she “played” productively with Brandon Poston, Malia Hosey, Jessica Taylor and Shemar Boatwright during their half-day PALS class.

“We emphasize their language skills,” Staley said. “When they get to 5-K classes, they won’t be delayed.”

Other than one year at another school, she has worked at East Aiken throughout her career. Until 2009, Staley served as a itinerant therapist at the school. She would meet with children throughout the school in pullout sessions. Now Staley and teachers from six other elementary school have their own programs – identified as PALS classrooms.

Hundreds of children throughout the county are receiving instruction related to speech issues. Michelle Stanford, the Aiken County School District’s speech services coordinator, originally was providing therapy in two elementary schools after she moved to Aiken from Alabama several years ago.

“I was seeing a pattern of weakness in vocabulary and communication,” said Stanford. “We felt they needed more consistency, reinforcing their skills on a daily basis.”

She taught the first PALS class for ages 3-5 at Byrd Elementary School, and, after three years of solid data, Aiken School Board members approved new PALS classes in two elementary facilities. The venture has continued to grow since then.

“We saw children making tremendous gains, as much as a year and a half in language skills within a school year,” Stanford said. “We had speech therapists who knew how to target specific communication skills in a small group setting.”

Still, the needs throughout the District are extensive. Currently, about 40 to 45 itinerant therapists are serving children. For the majority of kids who may need the services, they don’t have disabilities. They may have issues in such areas as articulation.

At ages 3 or 4, they may have developmental delays in general or conditions like ear infections. Other children may be late in talking. These issues “don’t interfere with their access to the general curriculum,” Stanford said.

Staley thoroughly enjoys her work with two half-day classes.

“To see their growth from the beginning of the year to the end makes my heart happy,” she said. “By the end of the year, they won’t stop talking.”

On a given day, Staley provides a variety of strategies to build her children’s vocabulary. They count objects, learn how to “cook” food, answer her questions and practice pairing sounds. They find ways to sing just about everything, and Staley laughs through all of it and gently encourages her kids.

“You guys are rocking,” she told them last week.

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard’s education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001.