Skip To Main Content

New classroom sound systems amplify learning for students

Cynthia Ridings’ math class at Horizon Middle School was filled with chatter. Ridings had asked her sixth graders to discuss a geometry problem that she handed out, and the students were figuring it out with their neighbors.

Traditionally, to regain the class's attention, a teacher would have to raise their voice sharply over the din. But Ridings regained attention when students heard her lightly amplified voice count down, “five, four, three, two, one.” Despite her voice being at a normal pitch, it could be clearly heard above the students’ talk.

This was thanks to the new Phonak sound systems, which were installed in every preschool through eighth grade classroom in Ferndale this fall. Each teacher now has a microphone dangling from their neck, which connects to a wireless speaker in the room, clearly but subtly amplifying the teacher’s voice.

“It’s so nice to be able to use your regular talking voice, you don’t have to over-exert!” said Ridings. “(Before the sound systems), one of our teachers would go home every Friday and could hardly speak over the weekends – their voice was so hoarse from having to talk in a ‘classroom voice.’”

This is only one of a multitude of benefits that the new sound systems bring for students and staff. They also make learning more accessible for students who are hard-of-hearing, for Multi-Language Learners, or have communications disorders.

“I did not understand the magnitude of how many barriers this truly removes for kids,” said Sara Dessert, the MTSS Coordinator at Custer Elementary School. She was part of the team that applied for the state grant, which paid for the sound systems.

The sound systems use adapters to connect to students’ hearing aids, putting the teacher’s voice directly in their ears. Jonathan, a third grader at Custer who uses hearing aids, said it’s a tremendous upgrade.

“Last year, I had trouble hearing, and my teachers had to repeat stuff more than once,” he said. “Now, they just say it one time, because I can just hear.”

It also helps all students understand and hear their teachers more clearly, regardless of their hearing ability.

“If it’s a loud class, you can hear the teacher better,” said Cheyenne, a sixth grader at Horizon.

Dessert said one Custer teacher took notes on how many times she would have to repeat directions during transitions to lunch, recess, or the bathroom. Before the sound system, those transitions would take between 5 and 8 minutes, and the teacher would have to issue between 11 and 21 reminders. After she received a microphone, those transitions shrunk to 3 minutes each, and the teacher only needed to issue about 6 reminders.

The sound systems also come with a separate, hand-held microphone. Many teachers use these so students can clearly share their answers with the entire class. Now, even the most whispery students can be heard.

“If somebody is too quiet, then we wouldn’t hear them, but since the microphone is here, now we can hear the quiet people,” said Custer second grader Adalyn.

Ferndale schools are using the microphones beyond just the classrooms. Because the sound system automatically increases in volume if the room is louder, paraeducators on lunch duty at Custer can easily get hundreds of students’ attention without needing to raise their voice.

“Our paraeducators can keep their voices nice and calm, and all the students can hear,” said Principal Kim Hawes.

When the new Ferndale High School academic wing is complete in the winter of 2023, the new building will have a similar sound system built in, according to Karli Koning, assistant principal and MTSS coordinator at FHS.