Sound systems help school soothe strain

Second-grade teacher Althea Sabado has always relied on her loud voice to get her 17 students to pay attention.

It works, but it also makes her students feel like they are being yelled at. And by the end of the day, Sabado says, her vocal cords are strained, her voice nearly gone.

All of that changed this year when Sabado and seven other teachers at Nanaikapono Elementary School in Nanakuli received a donation to install sound systems in their classes over the winter break.

“The environment of the classroom is just much more calm,” said the 25-year-old Sabado, who now speaks softly into a wireless microphone hanging from her neck. “You know, when the teacher is rowdy, the kids get rowdy.”

Her voice is projected through four speakers in the ceiling, which are also hooked up to the TV. Students can hold a microphone to ask questions and read.

“We don’t need to make our voices go louder,” said Chalyssa Belford, 8. “I like it because our teacher doesn’t need to yell.”

The estimated $18,000 worth of audio equipment was bought by Altres, a local employment agency that believes the system will last longer than general supplies it has donated to schools and have a greater impact on learning.

“For the same amount of money that you would put toward a computer, you could put in a sound system that could last 20 years in a classroom,” said David Bower, Marketing and Communications Director for Altres.

Jeff Anderson, President of Audio Enhancement, said his mother pioneered the system in Utah in 1978 to help his two hearing-impaired brothers at school.

Since then the devices have been installed in some 75,000 classrooms from California to Florida, and Ohio is requiring them in every new school, Anderson said.

Studies have tied the system to higher test scores and lower teacher absences, he said. Being able to better hear teachers, he noted, is especially beneficial to English-language learners who tend to speak their native tongue at home.

“It’s like putting four teachers talking by everybody,” he said. “It’s like having a teacher next to you all the time.”