Barse Elementary School students have a colorful new addition to their playground: an innovative communication board. The new tool, introduced by speech therapist Montana Jacobs, will allow nonverbal students to communicate by pointing to pictures to express their thoughts and feelings.
“We had seen a couple of local parks that had these boards, and we figured with the population that we serve here—some of them being non-speaking, some of them being communications-impaired—we could supplement their ability to communicate on the playground without having to carry a book or board,” said Jacobs.
The board also helps to bridge the gap between the communication-impaired students and the general population. With pictures and symbols available to all students, the board makes it possible for those who use nonverbal forms of communication to still join in on conversations.
“We thought it would be something beneficial for everyone,” Jacobs said. “Not just for our kids that struggle with communication, but also for encouraging acceptance and understanding.”
Jacobs worked with the self-contained teachers in the school to design the board using images and words that the students would be familiar with. Then, with the support of Barse principal Joe Camardo and district Director of Special Education, Teri Godlewski, Jacobs had the board created and installed on the playground behind the school.
“It really was a team effort,” Jacobs said. “It’s something that was simple, and I think the benefits are going to be far-reaching.”
Third-graders Abby Gentile and Airesellis Dawkins had both noticed the board on the playground but hadn’t had a chance to use it yet.
“It helps kids who can’t talk be able to talk to us,” Airesellis explained. “Then we can help them with things or play together.”
Jacobs said she and the staff have a few different plans to familiarize the students with the board and make it functional. The self-contained students will use it in their small groups, taking turns requesting options from the board and then fulfilling them.
The goal is ultimately to get the entire school involved.
“I have a really great group of speech-only kids who love to be involved in things,” Jacobs said. “We’d like to do something where they take the lead when they’re all out at recess, kind of showing the others just to try it and encourage each other.”
She believes it will take some time for it to become widespread, but it will be worth it.
“I think once it reaches that level of familiarity, it’s going to be a really cool thing for everyone.”