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Winston-Salem Foundation Grant helps Students with Disabilities Enhance Literacy Skills



By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools


ws/fc schools

ws/fc schools

Thanks to a grant from The Winston-Salem Foundation, students with disabilities will have access to literacy kits that include assistive technology and other materials designed to help them enhance their reading and writing skills.

The $14,710 grant is one of four totaling more than $200,000 that the foundation has given to Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools in recent years for technology to help students with disabilities.

“They have been very generous,” said Cindy Hall, the school system’s Exceptional Children (EC) assistive technology coordinator.

“They are so generous and so warm and they really do want to help,” said Emma Hatfield-Sidden, the school system’s EC assistive technology teacher.

“It really speaks to the mission of the foundation,” said Sam Dempsey, the school system’s director of EC programs.

Hall and Hatfield-Sidden are based at the school system’s Special Services Center, which is housed in the building on Mock Street that once served as Diggs Elementary School. After they order and receive all the materials that will go into the kits, they will begin assembling them. They expect the kits to be available to teachers and students in the third quarter.

Each of the 30 kits will feature one book or other classic work, such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It will include such assistive technology as programmable devices that will help the student ask and answer questions about the book.

The kits will also include items or programs chosen to spark discussion and creative play. For instance, the kit for Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham includes such extras as a frying pan where students can place “green eggs” with “yolks” that are letters of the alphabet. The kit with Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer might have a small fishing pole with a magnet at the end of the fishing line that could be used to pick up words.

Students who cannot manipulate such items will be able to use enrichment programs on computers. “Each kit will be unique,” Hall said.

With such books as Tom Sawyer, some students may not be able to read and understand the original text so the kit will include a simplified version of the story. “They are able to access the same content as their peers,” said Hatfield-Sidden.

ws/fc schools

ws/fc schools

Tech 31 Central to the kits will be the communications devices that can be customized to each student and to each book. The QuickTalker 12, for instance, can be programmed with an array of phrases that serve the student’s need to communicate. For instance, Hall and Hatfield-Sidden can insert a picture that illustrates a turning page into one box. The student can press on the picture, and it says, “Turn the page.”

Other phrases might enable the student to ask questions and express opinions about what he or she is reading.

Teachers will check out a kit and use it with a student over the course of a couple of weeks or so. “You would do it multiple times,” Hatfield-Sidden said.

Hall said that she hopes that seeing how valuable the kits are will inspire some teachers to create their own kits.

At one time, the state had a lending library from which assistive-technology materials could be borrowed. After the program was cut from the state budget in 2009, the lending library closed. “To teachers who used that, this was a big loss for them,” Hall said.

Since then, private money established a program that serves 22 counties but Forsyth County is not one of them.

Earlier grants from The Winston-Salem Foundation have paid for such assistive technology as tablets that use voice recognition software to enable students to write by dictating to the tablets. Those were assigned to specific students who could benefit from them.

“We use a lot of different technology depending on what they need,” Hatfield-Sidden said.

ws/fc schools

ws/fc schools

The assistive technology made possible by the grants has clearly helped students with disabilities enhance their literacy skills, Hall said. The grants have also led to more money for assistive technology in the local budget, Hall said, as members of the Board of Education have seen how valuable such devices can be for students.

The women’s responsibilities include educating teachers about assistive technology that is available for their students. Some online material is available for free. For instance, one website enables teacher to create electronic versions of books.

Tech 32 The school system is seen throughout the state as a leader in using assistive technology, Dempsey said. “It’s not because we have the most money and not because we have the most staff.”

It’s because Hall and Hatfield-Sidden are working hard to find what is available and to train teachers, he said. “I am really proud of them.”

And it’s because teachers are open to using it. “They are seeing it does make a difference with the kids,” Dempsey said.




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