iPads helping non-verbal students communicate

New calendars moves school start to after Labor Day

Jennifer Burgard, a Life Skills teacher at Oroville Elementary School, demonstrates one of the iPads equipped with the Sonoflex vocabulary app that is used to help non-verbal students communicate. Using pictures and symbols, the iPad "speaks" for the child. Gary DeVon/staff photo

Jennifer Burgard, a Life Skills teacher at Oroville Elementary School, demonstrates one of the iPads equipped with the Sonoflex vocabulary app that is used to help non-verbal students communicate. Using pictures and symbols, the iPad “speaks” for the child. Gary DeVon/staff photo

OROVILLE – Along with approving changes to the future school calendars, the Oroville School Board heard how iPads had replaced picture cutouts as one way non-verbal students could communicate.

The presentation was made to the board by Jennifer Burgard at their Monday, Feb. 24 meeting. Burgard, a Life Skills teacher at Oroville Elementary School, explained how the iPads, use the Sonoflex vocabulary app, turns symbols into speech and includes “thousands and thousands of words.”

She passed out three of the iPads, housed in brightly colored protective cases, to the board. Each of the five students who have the devices in the district has a different color, she said.

“The iPads help to communicate basic needs. Food is a big motivator… we start with ‘I want’ and add a food item,” she said. “We use ‘I want’ for everything.”

The students press a button that speaks “I want” and another button with a picture representing what they want, according to the teacher.

Burgard next showed the board several short videos of students using the devices to communicate with their instructors and to socialize with other, non-special needs students. A young boy showed his frustration at trying to get his needs across and then his enthusiasm when he was able to use the iPad to do so. One young girl was shown communicating her age and birthday, what color shirts people were wearing and answering other questions from other students.

“She also knows how to communicate things like her lunch number,” said the Life Skills teacher.

“I’ve worked with her and have seen just a massive difference from when she was still using the cards,” said Rocky DeVon, chairman of the school board.

“She’s interacting with people now,” said Burgard, adding that she is helping another young boy learn how to use the device.

“I know when I communicate with them they are getting pretty fast (at pressing the buttons),” DeVon said.

The Life Skills teacher said that photos can be taken with the iPads and added to the symbols and pictures that come with the app and labeled appropriately by one of the teachers.

“They understand they can take photos and often ask, ‘can I take your picture,’” she said.

The app also has a history button and students quickly learn they can use it to repeat something they have verbalized before. In addition there are games like Candyland

Burgard was asked if the iPads were sent home with the students.

“One student does use it at home, most don’t they go back to grunting and pointing,” she said

In addition to each iPad case being a different color, each “speaks” with a different voice, which the teacher says helps a lot when more than one student is trying to communicate at the same time.

The application costs $99 per device and mostly replaces a system that used cards with photos on them and velcro on the back. The board members expressed their thoughts that the application was a good value for helping these non-verbal students.

School Calendar

The board looked at and approved school calendars for the 2014-2015, 2015-2016, 2016-2017 school years. While a committee was formed to question district staff on the dates, the board had at least a couple of staff members who felt that ending the school year in mid-June was too late. However, the community, according to the board, really appreciated school not starting until after Labor Day. After discussion and changing some holiday and inservice days around or eliminating them, the board approved all three calendars.

Although they are not up on the district’s website, http://oroville.wednet.edu/, they soon will be, according to Erin McKinney with the district office.

The next Oroville School Board meeting is planned for 6:30 p.m. on Monday, March 24 in the district board room located at 816 Juniper St.

New calendars moves school start to after Labor DayNew calendars moves school start to after Labor Day

About Gary DeVon

Gary DeVon is the managing editor of the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune and celebrated his 25th year at the newspaper in August 2012. He graduated from Gonzaga University with a degree in Communications - Print Journalism, with an emphasis in photojournalism. He is a proud alumnus of Oroville High School. His family first settled in Okanogan County in the late 1800s. His parents are Judy DeVon and the late Larry DeVon and he has two younger brothers - Dante and Michael. Many family members still call Oroville home. He is single with a grown daughter, Segornae Douglas and a young granddaughter, Erin.

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