PA Cyber
Young woman holding a baby goat, which is wearing a bowtie.

Alumna Shares Speech Delay Journey, Graduates Early to Pursue Career in Medicine

Jennie Harris

Beginning at age four, Rhiannon Costanzo took speech therapy for a severe speech delay. “It was traumatizing trying to navigate school and having everyone say, ‘I can’t understand you, I don’t know what you’re saying,’” she said.

At her former brick-and-mortar school, her confidence was shattered by not only classmates bullying her—the school’s staff also mocked her and made jokes at her expense.

“They treated her as if she was developmentally impaired,” said her mother Sarah.

At her former school, Rhiannon took speech classes for four years, but she didn’t make much progress, especially with the teacher and schedule changing frequently.

Her sister and brother were also bullied, and they grew tired of trying to fit in. The Costanzo family didn’t know much about cyber schools, but they needed something different. Parents Sarah and Chris Costanzo took a leap of faith and enrolled their three children at PA Cyber. Once there, Rhiannon was assigned a new speech teacher who stayed consistent through therapy and met with her 2 or 3 times per week.

“Within a few years, I was normal,” Rhiannon laughed. “I remember suddenly, after a year or two of working with her, people would know what I was saying. I felt this sense of pride and happiness that I could talk to someone and they could understand me. It was very frustrating, with everyone not knowing what I was saying.”

She referred to PA Cyber’s staff members as family, including her speech therapist, guidance counselor, academic advisor, teachers, and administrators.

“Once we came to PA Cyber,” said Sarah, “she tested very high academically. She just needed proper speech therapy, which was provided … It’s hard to even believe now! She overcame it and moved on. We’re grateful for such a great support system!”

In eighth grade, Rhiannon spoke publicly about her speech therapy journey at her National Junior Honor Society induction ceremony. She remembers shaking as she read her speech. She returned years later as a high school student to deliver another speech at her National Honor Society ceremony, where she spoke about her ancestry and told jokes.

“I’m grateful I had an opportunity to speak at those ceremonies,” she said.

Middle school student speaks at lectern for an honor society induction.
Rhiannon speaks publicly for the first time at a National Junior Honor Society induction ceremony.

Big Goals, Big Heart

Rhiannon took many extra classes in high school so she could graduate one year early. “Sometimes I’d get bogged down with homework,” she said. But she managed to balance it all—and graduate with a 4.0.

She made time for Student Council and was an IMPACT tutor for students in grades 3 and 4. “When I was their age, it would’ve been a nice thing to have other peers who provided a safe space. I love to be that for them.”

Any time she felt stressed about grades, she would go outside to her family’s small farm to see her mini ponies, goats, and chickens. She was set on becoming a veterinarian until her interest shifted to human medicine when she took biology and bioinformatics classes with Kelli Moon in high school.

“Rhiannon is an extremely hardworking and dedicated student, and I was lucky enough to have her in class,” said Moon. “I’m really proud of her for working so hard to graduate early. Rhi was always such a positive influence in class and had a great attitude.”

Rhiannon with her teacher, Kelli Moon
Rhiannon meets high school science teacher Kelli Moon.

Rhiannon’s volunteering at the Red Cross also provoked her interest in biology. When Rhiannon was born, she required an emergency blood donation, and the nearest available supply was a four-hour drive away. A Red Cross volunteer took a taxi that night and delivered the infant blood mixture in an ice storm. She talks about her commitment to giving back to the Red Cross in this article on

“Through the Red Cross, I found this passion for blood donation and medicine, for helping people and having those day-to-day connections,” she said. “It’s hard to find words, especially considering how big of a deal it was for my parents to have that blood delivered when I needed it. I know there were multiple donors behind that donation and many other moving parts behind the scenes.”

Now in her freshman year at Penn State Scranton, she is studying biology with the goal of having a career in medicine. She was awarded a scholarship and academic grant and holds a work-study job in the admissions office.

Her mother Sarah reflects on her daughter’s growth over the years: “It’s amazing to think of how far she’s come and how shy she was. To watch her come into her own now and be so outgoing and confident is almost surreal.”

Rhiannon checking people in for blood donation.

As a Red Cross Donor Ambassador, Rhiannon volunteers at blood drives to ensure that donors have a pleasant experience. Today, she studies biology at Penn State Scranton.

Through the Red Cross, I found this passion for blood donation and medicine, for helping people and having those day-to-day connections.

Rhiannon Costanzo