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Sound teaching: New technology helps educators be heard in class

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | July 29, 2021 1:03 AM

MOSES LAKE — After 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, with all the lockdowns and restrictions on business and public gatherings, it’s becoming something of a cliche to say, “it was a tough year.”

But according to Brian Sargee, the president of the Moses Lake Lions Club, it was, in fact, a difficult year for the noble and storied civic club. There were no in-person meetings, no major fundraisers, no booth at the Grant County Fair in 2020, and no ability to recruit new members.

“It’s been a tough year just trying to find stuff to donate to,” Sargee said.

So when Jody Armstrong, a speech pathologist with the Moses Lake School District based at Midway Elementary School, came to the Lions Club earlier this year looking for some assistance to buy audio systems for classrooms to help kids with hearing difficulties, it was something of a match made in heaven.

“In our mission, we try and help vision and hearing, and so it was right up our alley,” said Susan Hickock, a Lions Club member and past president.

“This opportunity kind of presented itself, and we thought, ‘Gosh, we could help a lot of kids, not just hearing impaired,’” added Sargee, who teaches blind and visually impaired kids in the Moses Lake School District.

The Lions have committed to buying at least 14 FrontRow Juno amplification systems — one for each classroom at Midway Elementary. The Lions are pledging at least $18,000, though according to Hickock, they’ve raised over $20,000 for the portable sound systems.

The system is fairly simple. The teacher wears a portable Bluetooth microphone around the neck, and the specially designed speaker system amplifies the teacher’s voice above the noise of the room.

A basic system also includes one wireless handheld microphone for kids to use as well.

The district’s newer elementary schools — Sage Point, Park Orchard and the soon-to-be finished Groff — all have audio systems to help students with hearing problems built into the classrooms.

But for an older school like Midway, teachers with students who had issues hearing would vie to use the few amplification systems in their classes.

“It helps the kids with the hearing problems be able to focus in on the sound, where it’s coming from, and who’s speaking above the classroom noise,” Armstrong said. “And that’s really where the benefit comes in for every single student.”

Armstrong said behavior improves, focus improves, even test scores improve. And not just for kids with hearing issues.

“Because they know what they are supposed to be listening to,” she said.

Stephanie Strom, a kindergarten teacher at Midway who has been using the Juno in her classroom since just before the pandemic started, said she’s watched kids with attention deficit disorder improve and kids with speech issues learn to speak better because they can more easily pay attention and relate the sounds she says to how she speaks.

“It’s supernatural, but it took me a week to get used to,” she said. “I walk in the classroom and click it on first in the morning, wear it every day, all day long.”

The biggest difficulty Strom said she had was remembering to turn it off when she left the classroom to talk to another teacher or use the bathroom or making sure guest teachers or substitutes knew to use the system.

“If I have a guest teacher or a sub teacher in here, the kids would say, ‘We have to tell her to put the microphone on,’ because it’s something that they’re very much used to,” Strom said.

Sargee said donating the money to the MLSD to equip Midway Elementary has been an important project for a group that found itself unsure of its mission in the time of COVID-19.

“One of the nice things about this opportunity to donate, we basically have money saved to fund something like this,” he said. “It’ll really help the school district. One of our bigger projects of the year.”

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