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Democrat and Chronicle

Back School 1 puts new twist on 'a sound education'

Kids hear, are heard clearly via wireless device

Gary McLendon
Staff writer

(March 2, 2007) -- Remember when all school audio technology meant was a wood-grained speaker on the wall above the blackboard?

Well, these days, kids have options.

Thanks to wireless technology, students in several classrooms at School 1 on Hillside Avenue are hearing and being heard clearly.

In September, the school installed a wireless hand-held microphone system. It's called a "sound field."

In the Butterfly Exhibit
WILL YURMAN staff photographer
Jordon Smith, 11, uses a wireless microphone and School 1's "sound field" system as he reads in Jennifer Heineman's sixth-grade class. One official says the technology not only aids learning but eases a teacher's vocal stress.

Sound fields are useful, says sixth-grade teacher Jennifer Heineman, who wears a hands-free microphone device around her neck, and a small transmitter on her waist.

The system transmits her voice through four wall-mounted speakers in the classroom and gives her great verbal command without great effort.

Heineman is excited about the technology because it allows both hearing-impaired and hearing children to clearly hear her instructions, and each other, when reading before the class.

The sound field is helping sixth-grader Joey Rivera more than anything else he's experienced as a student.

"I'm completely deaf in my left ear, so it helps me listen to what my teacher says," said Joey, who lost hearing in his ear five years ago.

Before the sound field was used, "I couldn't really hear what the teachers were saying. When she gave out homework, I kept asking if she could write it on the board or speak to me. I couldn't really hear."

Robin Huttunen, one of five audiologists in the City School District, said, "There is significant research that shows improved classroom acoustics aids learning and eases a teacher's vocal stress."

Not all city schools have sound fields, however. "They are used throughout the district in schools which have students that have hearing related issues," Huttunen said. "Some schools are starting to use it for general education."

School 1 has nine sound field systems in place.

"We have found it to be very beneficial not only for hearing-impaired students but other students in the classroom. It helps keep the kids' attention," said School 1 Principal Evelyn Hubbard, adding that the sound field is making students more confident.

"Without this, children sometimes felt that nobody could hear them, or nobody was listening. When they have the microphone, I think there's a big difference between how many people share their work. It builds self-esteem when the children know others are listening."

In fact, Joey's classmates Jahvan Martin, Achynia McCathan, Dakota Porteus, Donald Turner and Jordon Smith were eager to read books and self-written essays to classmates via the microphone in the classroom.

When not being used by students, Heineman places the full-sized microphone in front of a small CD player to transmit soft background music into the class.

She said it helps keep classroom noise and rustling down, and the children's conversations lower.

Enhanced audio technology is not new. Hearing systems to assist speech- and hearing-impaired children were developed in the 1960s, and have increased in quality since then.

Increased communication technology has assisted teachers in thousands of U.S. classrooms. And, on a larger scale, sound system technology has advanced in stadiums, theaters, cinemas, courtrooms and other public facilities.

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