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Classroom sound systems meant to amplify learning

Western Heights Middle School used grant to buy equipment so students can hear teachers

November 15, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Western Heights Middle School geography teacher Laurie Atwell uses a wireless mic to speak to her class.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

At the start of the school year, Western Heights Middle School sixth-grader Andrea Makle said she was asking her ancient-history teacher a lot of questions because, sitting in the back of the class, she had difficulty hearing him.

Next door in Laurie Atwell’s geography class, seventh-grader Nadia Metz was having similar problems hearing Atwell even though Nadia sat in the front of the class.

These days teachers often walk around their classrooms while speaking, and for these two classrooms any hearing issues are compounded during lunch. The two rooms adjoin the cafeteria with hundreds of students at lunch, Atwell said.

Atwell was using a single-speaker sound system last year, but earlier this school year she and three other teachers had infrared audio systems installed in their classrooms. Each system has a microphone the teacher wears around the neck, which is activated with the push of a button to speak to the students. The sound comes out of four speakers in the ceiling.

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The new audio system amplifies her voice much better than the old one, Atwell said.

“It’s helping me because I hear, like, stuff that I didn’t hear before. I’m doing better on tests now,” said Dayne Mills, 12, who is in Atwell’s class.

In addition to students hearing and comprehending lessons better, ancient-history teacher Roman Ganoe said the sound system has improved student attentiveness and reduced behavior problems.

“People got off task before (Atwell) started using the microphone cause they couldn’t hear, so they thought that they didn’t have to pay attention,” Dayne said.

But once Atwell started using the new microphone, students paid attention because they could hear better and it sounded like the teacher was right next to them, Dayne said.

Principal Michael Kuhaneck said he looked into getting Atwell a sound system after he was in her class during lunch and noticed she had to speak louder and the lunchtime noises were distracting.

Kuhaneck said he didn’t want students to think teachers were yelling at them, when they were really raising their voices so they could be heard over noises.

The initial single-speaker sound system was upgraded when Kuhaneck learned about Audio Enhancement’s sound system, he said.

The school system applied for and received a grant from the Utah-based company for four sound systems, Kuhaneck said.

Jonathan Harris, the company’s regional sales director, said one classroom sound system costs $1,500 to $1,600. The school system bought, for $716 total, four infrared handheld microphones that students use, Harris and school system spokesman Richard Wright said.

The school system is evaluating the Audio Enhancement sound systems only at Western Heights, the Hagerstown West End school that received the grant, Wright said. If school system officials determine the sound system is beneficial, they will take a more serious look at it, he said.

While the school system is evaluating the audio system, teachers provide feedback to the company to help it improve the system, Harris said.

Andrea, 12, a student in Ganoe’s class, said the handheld microphones the students use have helped her hear her classmates.

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