During a teacher’s meeting held in a classroom at Tanglen Elementary, the attendees realized they had a hard time hearing each other. If THEY had trouble hearing, how could the children possibly hear what was going on in the classroom? It was the identification of this problem – and a successful three-year pilot study of the solution – that led the Hopkins Education Foundation to award the largest grant in its history.
The schools in the Hopkins District are not built with the current recommendations for acoustical standards. The need was identified: we must improve the acoustical environments in Hopkins schools so that all children can learn to the best of their abilities.
Championing the cause was Diane Arenson, a speech-language pathologist at Tanglen. Arenson conducted extensive research and explored what schools across the country were doing to enhance amplification in the classroom. She discovered that the state-of-the-art solution was an infrared amplification system with an amplifier and room speakers. The teacher wears a microphone, which allows him/her to move about the classroom. The teacher/speaker’s voice is transmitted at a level that is approximately 10-15 dB above the noise of the classroom (noise sources include heating vents, children’s voices, hallway noise, chairs moving, airplanes, lawn mowers, playground noise, etc.).
This technology, originally developed for children with hearing impairments, truly has a Universal Design by allowing all children, including typical learners, English Language Learners, and children with special needs, to benefit from the improved acoustical input. No matter where a child is sitting, or where a teacher is standing when teaching, every child hears as if they were sitting in the front row. Professionally, it has been an incredibly rewarding experience to meet my goal of having every elementary classroom in Hopkins Schools installed with amplification equipment and I thank the Hopkins Education Foundation for their support. — Diane Arenson
Other sound sources, such as televisions, CD players and computers can be plugged into the amplifiers so sound can be heard throughout the rooms from the four ceiling speakers. In addition, a separate student microphone provides amplification of the children’s voices during classroom participation times. Schools across the country using this kind of system reported amazing results for everyone involved. Students were more engaged and there were fewer referrals to special education. Many schools reported that their students had higher reading and math test scores. Teachers reported less voice strain and less overall fatigue at the end of the day.
Armed with valuable information and a proposed solution, Arenson drafted an HEF grant request for a pilot program. The program was approved.
During April 2003, classroom amplification equipment was installed in a first- and second grade classroom at Tanglen Elementary. From the start, teachers felt that attending behavior and classroom behavior improved with use of the amplification equipment. They noticed that students’ attention span had lengthened, understanding of verbal direction had improved, and the rate of learning had increased. Teachers also reported an increase in classroom participation because the children enjoyed speaking into a microphone.
The pilot proved so successful that the Foundation awarded an additional $60,000 grant to the program in 2005. In January 2006, a third HEF grant for $130,000 was awarded bringing the total number of amplifications systems provided by HEF to 115. Additional funding provided by PTA groups, other community grants, and capital outlay brings the total classroom amplification count to 160. With classrooms made up of 20-30 children each, 3,200-4,800 students will benefit this year. Over a 10-year period, 32,000-48,000 students will use this valuable equipment.