Peninsula speech language therapists awarded for excellence

“I was very honored to be recognized by my peers and colleagues,” Evans said in an interview with the Clarion.

Three speech language pathologists with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District were recognized for excellence during the Alaska Speech-Language-Hearing Association last month. (Kenai Peninsula Borough School District)

Three speech language pathologists with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District were recognized for excellence during the Alaska Speech-Language-Hearing Association last month. (Kenai Peninsula Borough School District)

Three speech language pathologists with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District were recognized for excellence during the Alaska Speech-Language-Hearing Association last month, according to a release from the district.

Robin Evans received the “Red Lantern” award for working to provide services to rural areas. Jackie Kempf got the “Sourdough” award for her long-term dedication to practicing and advocating in the state. Melody Spangler-Hatch received the “Lifetime Member” award for her outstanding history of clinical practice in Alaska.

Evans served as the district’s Child Find coordinator, where she traveled to different borough schools to screen students and provide full speech and language evaluations, which helped expedite the speech language onboarding process for students, according to the release.

“I was very honored to be recognized by my peers and colleagues,” Evans said in an interview with the Clarion.

She said she started with the school district in 1995 as a speech language pathologist primarily for preschool-aged children, then slowly began to work more on screening kids so they could have more speech therapy services.

Evans said her work took her all around the peninsula — from Tyonek to Hope to the Russian Villages.

“I would fly across the bay … sometimes I would take the ferry over,” she said. “It was really just a fun job.”

Setting a positive tone for the kids early in their lives, Evan said, was crucial to her work as a speech language pathologist. She said it can change the trajectory of their careers for the better.

Evans is now retired but still contracts her services and works as a substitute on occasion.

She said receiving the “Red Lantern” award was a nice way to end her career.

“It was kind of a nice frosting on the cake,” Evans said.

The “Sourdough” winner, Kempf, has spent time working on speech therapy with students of all ages and with both neurodiverse and neurotypical cognitive interpretations, the release stated. She has also spent time mentoring graduate students completing clinical hours and internships.

In an interview with the Clarion, Kempf said studying linguistics at Kenai Peninsula College introduced her to the field of speech therapy.

“That was super intriguing to me,” she said. Kempf began her career as a speech language pathologist at Soldotna Elementary School in 1997. She worked at some other schools in the district before returning to Soldotna Elementary, her alma mater, about 10 years ago. She is set to retire from the district after this school year.

Looking back on her career, Kempf said helping children develop — especially younger kids — has been the highlight.

“Life is just really tough when you can’t communicate,” she said. “I think the big reward is when we get to see … the change in kids over time.”

Kempf was “totally surprised” to win the award last month, she said, and credited her speech therapy assistants for the honor.

Part of the “Sourdough” award recognizes outstanding clinical practice.

“I feel like that is very much a team-recognized component,” Kempf said.

In her retirement, Kempf said she’s looking forward to contracting her services in other parts of the country, and even the world.

Spangler-Hatch, who took home the “Lifetime Member” award, is a retired speech language pathologist who worked for the school district — primarily on the eastern peninsula — for 32 years.

The “Lifetime Member” recognition, according to the release, is granted to a therapist exhibiting an outstanding history of clinical practice for at least 20 years.

In an interview with the Clarion, Spangler-Hatch said her colleagues at the district made her career all the more meaningful.

“They were like family to me and they always will be,” she said.

Spangler-Hatch was originally a theater student when she went to college, but became fascinated by speech language pathology living in her school’s department of health student housing.

She said one day she passed a speech and auditory therapy session in her building and decided to make the switch.

“That kind of hooked me and I never looked back,” Spangler-Hatch said.

Her “Lifetime Member” recognition surprised her last month, she said.

“I was completely surprised and speechless, which is kind of ironic for a speech language pathologist,” she said. “It really warmed my heart.”

She’s still certified to continue practicing in the state, but is currently retired.

She said her career has been both intense and demanding at times, but ultimately it has been fulfilling.

“It was just a super incredible and very rewarding career,” Spangler-Hatch said.

For more on the awards, visit the KPBSD communications field notes webpage.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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