When special-needs student Franklin Walter came to Havre less than three years ago, he was unable to speak. Now, with the help of school speech pathologist Karen Gibson, the speech paraprofessionals at Havre Middle School and an Apple iPad, Franklin is developing a voice.
He is one of a handful of students across the Havre Public Schools system over the past year who is using the popular gadget to improve communication skills, whether they can’t speak like Franklin, or just need a little help with their “R” sound.
“The versatility is just amazing, ” Gibson told the school board Tuesday. “This is the biggest deal to help speech pathology I have seen. ”
Gibson got her first taste of the potential last year, when she borrowed an iPad from Quality Life Concepts.
After seeing what it could do, she convinced the district to buy one to use with students in schools. The district now has seven iPads being used to help students in nearly every grade.
When Franklin came to Havre, Gibson helped him get a $7,000 machine about the size and weight of a brick called a dynavox.
Six weeks ago Franklin started using the iPad, which is lighter, faster and easier to customize to whatever he needs.
When asked how he feels about the new technology, Franklin said, through the iPad app, that he is “excited. ”
Aside from being intuitively interactive and exciting for the students to use, Gibson also likes how it makes her job easier.
Many of the speech apps include exercises that have students record themselves talking, so they can hear what they are doing that needs work.
Speech therapists can take pictures or video of students talking to show them what they are doing, like if their tongue sticks out too far when saying “S. ”
When students do exercises or assignments on the iPad, they can email their results directly to their teacher so they not only know that the work is done, but can track the student’s progress.
Karla Wohlwend, Havre Public Schools’ director of personnel and special services who helped Gibson get the iPads, described to the board how she sent Gibson and paraprofessional Meghan Roe to an iPad summit for speech pathology in Helena that was organized by the Montana Office of Public Instruction last November.
According to Wohlwend, she got an email two hours into the summit from the organizer of the event thanking her for sending Gibson and Roe, who had taught them so much already.
Both Gibson and Roe are very excited about how the iPad will change the entire world of education.
“It’s hard not to be excited about, ” Roe said. “Right now, we’re just breaking the surface of what we can do. ”
For now, though, they are just excited to see students like Franklin learning to communicate as easily as he deserves.