Everything from a board filled with words and photos to tablets loaded with specialized programs are helping students at Catholic schools across the city learn to communicate with teachers, their schoolwork and one another.
Edmonton Catholic Schools has implemented and expanded an assisted technology and augmented and alternative communications (AAC) strategy to help early grade students and students with communication challenges express themselves.
“It’s really something to see the students evolve, they actually go into this faster than I’m learning,” said Anna Kulig, a teacher with the Generations Program at St. Mark Junior High School.
The school board’s implementation of the technology was recently recognized with a School Board Innovation and Excellence Award at the Alberta School Board Association Awards.
More than 50 Catholic students across the city currently use different levels of technology in the classroom and at home. Kulig’s classroom is one where every student uses assisted technology.
Andrea Silvestri, the mother of a student in Kulig’s classroom, said her son Zack, who has cognitive barriers, not only uses the technology at school but it helps him communicate with others in the community.
“For these kids, if you are unable to communicate, it’s very frustrating and that’s where you see an escalation of behaviour,” said Silvestri.
Zack has used three different communications programs in school and at home, starting with low-tech pictograms to now using a tablet.
“They all kind of basically, in their own way, accomplish the same thing, you know, ‘This is what I want, this is what I need.’ You’re able to have that back and forth communication,” said Silvestri.
“His needs are able to be met and he feels like ‘OK, I’m being heard and I’m not going to have a meltdown.’”
Colleen Holzer, an inclusive programming consultant with Edmonton Catholic Schools, said students not in specialized classrooms can incorporate the technology into their learning and a majority of kindergarten classrooms now have low-tech options in their curriculum.