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Noise kicked to back of class

Hard-of-hearing students get help

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Cutting-edge sound equipment has given Oakenwald School students who are hard of hearing a level playing field in loud classrooms.

And teachers no longer have to shout to get a rowdy class's attention.

The kindergarten to Grade 6 school in Wildwood Park is the first school in the Pembina Trails School Division to equip each of its 10 classrooms with a Listen Up sound system.

Listen Up ramps up a teacher's voice so it can be heard above the usual din and chatter of groups of students who study together in pods.

As a result, Grade 4 student Sydney Stefanson, 9, no longer needs a hearing aid to hear her teacher.

"Before, I was the only one," she said, "I used to have to carry my own FM," she said, referring to the frequency monitoring equipment often used by people with hearing loss. "When we got this speaker system, now it's everyone who's using this microphone."

Sydney's mother, Kendra Wilson, said to see her daughter, born with moderate hearing loss, not need to use her hearing device is priceless. "Now's she's just like every other kid who comes to school," Wilson said.

There are other schools in other school divisions reported to make use of similar technology but Oakenwald is believed to be the first to install it in every classroom.

The new sound system also helps do away with voice burnout, the bane of many a teacher.

"I've noticed I have a lot more energy at the end of the day because I don't have to speak over the children," said Grade 4 teacher Mary-Ann Mitchler.

Oakenwald is testing out the devices as part of a year-long study by York University in Toronto, school principal Dave Poersch said Thursday.

He was watching a Grade 4 class put the equipment through its paces for the media Thursday.

"We know children get sounds transmitted to their ears but it's the brain that perceives the sound and gives it it's meaning. This system is like having a personal sound system in your brain," Maureen Penko, a speech and language pathologist, said.

In a demonstration of the equipment, one boy stood up in front of the class, microphone in hand, and delivered a acoustically precise lecture on the habits of wild giraffes. A dozen or more classmates sat attentively, listening to the mini-lecture, as school officials, the classroom teacher, a parent and a speech and language pathologist attended the demonstration.

"It's all new this year. Our superintendent was at an educational conference and saw this equipment being showcased," Poersch said.

Pembina Trails gave the school its approval to enrol in the York study and in return got the equipment at half price. Manufacturer Front Row to Go is paying the other half of the cost, which ranges from $1,200 to $1,500, depending on the size of the classroom, he said.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2012 B4

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