Meet Judy Montgomery
It’s clear that Judy Montgomery loves her work. When she discusses children, literacy, and the role that speech-language professionals can play, her excitement is contagious. And when she declares that she got involved with literacy because, “you can’t NOT be,” her enthusiasm makes the listener want to get involved as well.
Judy Montgomery has had a number of roles in her career. She has worked in the Los Angeles, Santa Ana, and Fountain Valley School Districts in California, as a speech-language pathologist, a general education principal, and a special education administrator. In addition, she has contributed to a variety of committees for the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), as a California state representative to the ASHA legislative council, and on the Executive Board as vice president. In 1995, she served as ASHA’s president, one of only three ASHA presidents to come from the public school setting.
Now an Associate Professor of Special Education in the School of Education at Chapman University, Montgomery teaches graduate level classes and works on her own special projects. She believes that all children have a right to learn to read. For some, this is a real struggle. Montgomery illustrates this with statistics from 1998 Congressional testimony by Dr. Reid Lyon, of the National Institute of Health. She notes, “Five percent of children know how to read before they begin school. Thirty percent learn to read, no matter who the teacher is, no matter what the program. But 60 percent must be taught to read, and they can find it a real struggle.”
Shaped by print
Montgomery believes that from the time children learn to recognize the letters in their own names, they are shaped by print. This is early in the learning process, in a stage that she calls emergent. At this stage, young readers realize they have power as readers. They can understand information in printed form, and use this information to interact with the world around them.
From there, readers advance through three other stages. Early readers expand their understanding of words in print, and learn how to express themselves in written form as well. Once they are comfortable with reading and writing as a primary form of communication, they are fluent readers-the stage where most young people and adults spend the majority of their reading time. The final stage is the mature reader, who engages in literary criticism, high level metaphor and simile, and rigorous questioning of a text. Most of us apply mature reading skills when necessary (to challenging essays or articles, for instance), but revert to fluent reading habits for less rigorous tasks (such as novels, grocery lists, and driving directions).
Some children, however, enter the emergent reading stage and stay there for a long time. These are the children who spark Montgomery’s interest. “As a professional,” she says, “I do not believe there are nonreaders. These individuals are emergent readers.”
Students who remain in the emergent stage-reading at a rudimentary level, or recognizing only some letters and favorite words, without connecting them to meaningful thoughts-receive significant attention in their early school years. However, if they do not eventually move into the early reading stage, some are allowed to stop trying. Montgomery deplores this. “What a terrible abandonment. When does one give up on a child?” she asks.
For her, the answer is clearly, “Never.” She believes that speech-language professionals have the responsibility to keep striving to help all children, especially those with disabilities, develop their literacy skills. She knows that some of her colleagues agree with her, while others feel this is an unrealistic goal. For Montgomery, though, young people whose lives are not shaped by print are simply missing out on too much.
For speech-language professionals who would like to get involved with literacy-or any other cause-through activity in ASHA, Montgomery has some advice. “ASHA is a wonderful organization, filled with committed professionals, and it has a great vision,” she notes, but she also points out that getting involved can be a lot of work.
Her own involvement began after she completed her Master’s degree. ASHA had been a major resource for her early studies in augmentative communication, and she’d been impressed by the broad base of knowledge available in the organization. When she began to serve on committees in her home state of California, she realized why. The base of knowledge comes from the rich variety of experience brought by members from all over the country.
This is the special challenge for speech-language professionals who work with children and promote literacy. “Of the 60 percent who struggle with reading, 20 percent will always struggle. These are children with special needs, language disabilities, cognitive limitations, emotional problems, depression, or English language learners.”
After whetting her appetite with work on state committees and offices, Montgomery became President of the California Speech-Language Hearing Association (CSHA). From there, it was a short step to the presidencies of the California Council of Administrators in Special Education (CASE), and then the United States Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (USSAAC). She remains active in professional groups and currently serves on the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities (NJCLD).
To anyone who wants to become involved with ASHA, Montgomery says, “It’s a noble goal, but not an easy one. Get involved at the state level. Talk to people and read, read, read! Learn the issues and actions. Then go to your state conferences and prepare yourself to represent your state at the national level.”
In her many roles within ASHA and other professional organizations, and in her own work for children’s literacy, Judy Montgomery has served many, many children and adults. She believes that her clients have benefited from her variety of involvement and experience. “Your lens becomes broader as you work with others and learn from them. Ultimately, your clients aren’t being served by just one clinician, but many.” And in Judy Montgomery’s case, she and her clients have been touched by the whole of ASHA-and vice versa.
In addition to her own work and presentation schedule, Judy Montgomery is a trainer for the Comprehensive Assessment of Spoken Language (CASL). For more information on CASL presentations, please go to http://ags.pearsonassessments.com/casl/