Keyboard enables students to grow

School adds technology with help of state grant

January 16, 2002|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Until late last year, communication breakthroughs at Carroll Springs School occurred when students were able to convey "yes" or "no" answers to their teachers through eye contact. Or, they would touch the top of a device, called a "Big Mac," to trigger a prerecorded response.

For some students, conveying "yes" or "no" through eye contact remains a positive step in communication, but because of a $40,000 state grant and $5,000 in local funds, other Carroll Springs students are communicating in ways far beyond eye contact and prerecorded messages.

With the touch of a finger on a device called Intellikeys, these students are greeting classmates, describing the weather, and guessing who will win the next sporting event.

Located in Westminster, Carroll Springs provides services for students with multiple disabilities between the ages of 3 and 21. Students attending the school require intensive services such as nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech and language therapy, and individualized education.

The school's latest communication breakthrough is the result of a Technology in Maryland Schools grant that was awarded in 2000. Bolstered by local funding, the grant enabled the school to purchase items that had been on the staff's wish list for years: 11 computers with large monitors, 10 scanners, three computer-image projectors, a digital camera and hardware such as Intellikeys, which are computer keypads with symbols or pictures. The funds also paid for software, Internet access and upgraded wiring.

Carroll Springs also was granted "the wish of all wishes" - money to fund teacher training and cover the costs of substitute teachers while Carroll Springs employees learned how to use the technological advances in their classrooms, said James H. Bullock, administrative coordinator for the school.

As a result, Carroll Springs teachers are tapping into Web sites for lesson plans and signing into chat groups to swap ideas with teachers around the globe who teach similar students.

"All of this has uplifted the staff," Bullock said.

State and local administrators have toured the school several times to keep up with the progress. During a recent visit, students were looking at a projection of the school's newspaper on a large screen. The newspaper had pictorial symbols and letters that the students could understand.

Sometimes Carroll Springs students make it to the big screen, too.

"Hi, I'm Joe. I can't wait to roll through the halls of Carroll Springs School," Joe Weigman can now say as his picture smiles from a 10-foot-wide image projected on the wall. Joe chose the image, but the message was prerecorded by teachers and staff.

"It is interesting to see students stimulated cognitively through a variety of approaches," said Cindy Eckenrode, supervisor of instruction technology for Carroll County public schools. "Students who were not verbal, for example, flip switches to answer questions. Others can look at large computer monitors and nod responses. What they are accomplishing at Carroll Springs is wonderful."

"It's great that the teachers have computers in their rooms and no longer have to round up students and get them down the hall to a computer lab," said Donna Harrigan, whose 16-year-old daughter, Kelly, started in the Carroll County Infants and Toddlers Program, which is housed at Carroll Springs.

"Kelly enjoys the sights and sounds of the new programs - the flowers and the fireworks," Harrigan said. "With one flip of a big switch, the world has now opened up for her."

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