Belle Fourche speech language pathologist honored with statewide award

Anne Degen, a speech language pathologist who has worked with the Belle Fourche School District for 18 years, was recently honored with the Honors of the Association Award by the South Dakota Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Degen is pictured with her award. Pioneer photo by Lacey Peterson

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BELLE FOURCHE –– The South Dakota Speech-Language-Hearing Association recently recognized a Belle Fourche therapist with the statewide Honors of the Association Award.

Anne Degen has been in the speech language field for 33 years and said she was shocked and humbled by the award. 

“I felt very honored,” she said. “To be honored by people in your profession that know what you do … wow.”

Degen has been practicing as a speech language pathologist for the Belle Fourche School District for the last 18 years. She is employed by Black Hills Special Services Cooperative, which contracts with local school districts. She has also served other Black Hills districts and currently serves as a Brighter Beginnings coach for the Birth to Three Early Intervention Program, which serves children from birth to 36 months with development delays or disabilities. 

The award is the highest honor the association bestows and serves to recognize members for their distinguished contributions to the discipline of communication sciences and disorders.

Degen was nominated for the award by Shirley Hauge, a fellow speech language pathologist with BHSSC. 

“She (Degen) has been a roll model and example,” Hauge said in her nomination letter. “She is a professional who puts her students and families first. She exemplifies what it means to be an awesome SLP (speech language pathologist).”

Degen, who grew up in Spearfish, said that the field of speech language pathology has evolved over the years - technology being one of the most notable changes.

“When I started, we didn’t have computers to do all our paperwork, we hand wrote all the IEPs (individual education programs), all the testing, the test reports,” she said. “That’s been the biggest change.”

Technology hasn’t been the only change for Degen in the last three decades. Caseloads have also increased and Degen said there’s a multifaceted explanation for that.

“We’ve grown a lot,” she said. “I think our process of testing has refined a lot, so we’re better at evaluating. And we see a lot of kids that used to be placed at a different facility are in the district now. Our needs are different for our children.” 

When she started in the field, Degen said, children regularly needed assistance with articulation and the way letters sound.

“And now, we’re into language and voice and augmentative communication devices and just a wide range of things that we’ve had to constantly update our knowledge base to,” she said. 

Degen is happy to continue honing her skill for the benefit of the children she serves.

“Hopefully that’s what we’re doing … improving lives for children,” Degen said.

To assist children who have speech or language difficulties, Degen and other therapists she works with utilize a wide range of tools including flash cards, books, and homework sent home to be work on with parents.

The kids are Degen’s favorite part of the job.

“They just are amazing; they work hard … they say something amazing almost daily,” she said. “It’s awesome; I love it.”

She also enjoys the people she works with.

“We truly are a team and that makes a big difference in helping children,” she said. “If they can take it from speech (therapy) and go into the classroom and the teacher reinforces what they’re working on there, it makes all the difference.”

Watching children flourish is all the motivation Degen needs.

“It is so exciting; I have seen kids that I’ve had as elementary and middle school students … in the high school and maybe they’re the one that gets up at graduation and talks and they’re speech and language is perfect,” she said. “It’s so rewarding. We’re preparing them for life after school. Just hearing their speech and their language skills improve and think … yeah, they’re going to get it, they’re going to make it. That’s what motivates me.”

Degen was in the dark about the award until the Speech-Language-Hearing Association conference which was held in October in Spearfish.

“You know, you’re kind of kicked back at the luncheon … and then pretty soon, I look up and there’s my picture (on the screen),” she said. 

The surprise announcement accompanied another surprise. 

“I was on stage and I looked up and there’s my husband and daughter in the back of the room,” she said, adding it was a touching experience. “It was exciting; I’m still honored and humbled by it.” 

Caleb Case, special education director for the Belle Fourche School District, said Degen is an outstanding therapist with a tremendous work ethic and well deserving of the award.

“She is extremely knowledgeable and very well respected in her field, as evidenced by her receiving this honor,” he said. “She is compassionate and gives her all to the students and staff with whom she works. The students and families of Belle Fourche have benefited so much from the services she has provided over the years. Though she would be the last to admit it, Anne is extremely deserving of this recognition.”

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