Man's generosity sends a clear message to school

Classrooms fitted with sound systems

Union Bridge

March 06, 2001|By Pepper Ballard | Pepper Ballard,SUN STAFF

Brad Wentworth remembers how noise - the tapping of a pencil, the rustling of papers, the chattering of children - easily distracted him when he was a pupil at Elmer Wolfe Elementary School in Union Bridge.

Wentworth, a surgical technician at Baltimore's Sinai Hospital, struggled through school, and although he knew something was wrong, he didn't learn he had attention deficit disorder until he was 21 and in the military.

Mindful of the challenges he had to overcome, Wentworth, father of five children - three of whom attend Elmer Wolfe - has taken a step to help all pupils who might struggle as he did in the classroom.

He and his wife, Tracy, PTO vice president, have donated about $5,000 for the purchase of five sound field systems, a device proven to aid the learning process by amplifying a teacher's voice throughout the classroom.

"We just thought it was an important tool," said Wentworth, 31, who was recently honored with the first Elmer A. Wolfe Distinguished Alumnus Award for his donation. "It just made sense."

Vickie Mastalerz, the school's speech pathologist and audiologist, said the system works by transmitting the teacher's voice through a wireless FM microphone to a small speaker, which amplifies the sound equally throughout the classroom. The system screens out background noise and allows the teacher to turn off the microphone for private conversations.

The school has placed a sound field system in one classroom at each grade level. The classrooms were chosen at random.

Elmer Wolfe is the first school in Carroll to have the systems, and teachers report a difference in the classroom.

"I think one thing teachers notice most is that students pay more attention. Without the sound systems, students tend to ask for things to be repeated constantly," said Principal Mary Stong.

Wentworth's gift was received at a good time - the school's three-month pilot program for its five sound field systems was ending and no money was available to purchase the devices, officials said.

Wentworth and his wife decided to donate money for the systems, though none of their children is in the chosen classrooms. Because the pace of education is faster at the elementary level, Wentworth said he and his wife felt the system was an important addition.

"We were disappointed the Board of Education didn't recognize that it was an important tool," he said, referring to the school board's decision not to buy the system after the pilot program ended. "It's just as important as an overhead projector."

Mastalerz said that although Elmer Wolfe only has one child with a hearing impairment, the system helps all children.

"Children have to listen before they learn to talk, and reading is an auditory process, too," Mastalerz said. "You wouldn't put a child in a classroom without lights, but we put them in classes with poor acoustics."

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