CHEYENNE, Wyo. — On an early winter day at the Cheyenne Masonic Temple, the topic of conversation in Cindy Anderson's classroom turned to sports.
“What's this guy going to do, Jared?” Anderson asked 4-year-old Jared Cullison of Cheyenne, pointing to a picture of a man ready to swing a golf club.
“Dolf,” Cullison said.
“Golf,” Anderson corrected. “Can you say 'golf?'”
“Gaalf,” Cullison tried again.
“OK!” Anderson said, smiling.
For 20 years, the Wyoming Scottish Rite Masons have operated clinics for children with language problems, from 3-year-olds who stutter to high schoolers with dyslexia.
Normally, such services would set parents back $60 to $70 per hour. But the clinic is free, paid for by the Scottish Rite Masons and funding from an anonymous donor.
In addition to the full-time childhood language clinic in Cheyenne, the Masons run a part-time clinic in Sheridan and have a language teacher visit schools in Rock Springs.
Most of the parents who bring their kids to the clinic can't afford private language lessons, said Anderson, a speech therapist and former elementary school teacher who is the clinic's director. Other children, she said, aren't eligible for public school language services because they perform too well on standardized tests.
These days, the Cheyenne clinic is packed, serving more than 70 students. Even though its advertising has largely been limited to word of mouth, its programs are either full or nearly full.
“There's a lot of kids that really need the help,” Anderson said.
Diane Asay, Jared's grandmother, said Jared used to attend private lessons to improve his diction — Ws, she said, have been an especially daunting task for him. But after those private lessons didn't go anywhere, Asay said they turned to the Masons' language clinic.
“They have very creative ways of approaching things, and kids get a lot of individual attention,” Asay said. “He's so happy when he comes.”
For students Jared's age, the language classes resemble a regular preschool class. There are coloring worksheets, arts-and-crafts activities, and story time.
But there are usually only two students per class, and there's a definite focus on language in the activities.
Reading an animal-themed storybook to 4-year-olds Connor Becker and Trevor Csizmar, Anderson paused and pointed to a horse.
“What does a horse say, Trevor?” she asked.
“Neigh!” Trevor quickly answered.
“That's right! Neigh!” Anderson exclaimed.
“Meeee,” chimed in Connor.
“Very good, Connor,” Anderson said approvingly.
Kaleigh Becker, Connor's mother, said the clinic has been “amazing” for her son.
“Cindy has helped him a lot,” Becker said. “When we first came here, you couldn't understand a word he was saying. Now you can have a conversation with him.”
Brady Csizmar, Trevor's mother, said she's also seen an improvement in her son's speech.
“Sometimes he's smarter than his own good,” she said, laughing.
Contact Jeremy Pelzer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-632-1244.