Over the past several months the Hanover School Division has been placing large communication boards on Elementary and Middle School playground around the region, with a variety of colorful, recognizable symbols on both sides of it.
Stacey Marcoux, Speech Language Pathologist with HSD says, though the project was just recently completed, the idea came about several years ago.
“So, I'm part of an AAC interest group (Augmentative Alternative Communication group), and I'd been discussing this kind of thing was needed for our schools. We'd seen the panels show up in the USA. And then one day, as I was talking with the mom of a nonverbal student, I told her, this is my ultimate goal for Southwood School, to have something like this.”
Marcoux says she had encouragement from the previous HSD Assistant Superintendent of Student Services, Gerry Robson, to purchase five panels and start small. But then the pandemic hit, and nothing was done with it.
So, when the Manitoba Accessibility Grant option came up in 2022, Marcoux applied and was given $30,341 to purchase the Communication Boards. She was also able to get licensing to design the panels using special symbols from ‘Symbol Sticks’. She says, there are many students in the HSD that are minimally-speaking, and teachers/ EA’s already use the Proloquo2go App which uses these special symbols.
“So, it has all these symbols for 200 most common words used, and we can teach kids to point to a symbol, the App ‘speaks’ the word and the child can mimic the sound. The App can also help with grammar support, sentence structure, and vocabulary. It gives a voice to those that don't have a voice. It also works with kids that are English language learners, or kids with social emotional problems where they can't say things when they're that frustrated or that upset, pictures are universal.”
Marcoux says, because students and staff don’t take the iPads, with the App, outside for recess, they needed to find a way to help the students be able to tell them when someone was wrong or needed help with something, and the communication boards has been the perfect tool. She says, since the panels have gone up on HSD school playgrounds, they have heard many positive reports from teachers and EA’s.
“Often times, even verbal kids are going and pointing to the panel, and that's great for modeling, because for kids that use this, it's another language. So, you can't just say here, tell me what you want, students need to be modeled how to use it. So, having other kids that are verbal model it, it's wonderful.”
Marcoux says for a teacher or EA, to have the panels available, helps reduce frustration and anger. “It makes the student feel more empowered when they actually have a voice. They can actually say something.”
Marcoux says, trying to coordinate putting up the panels, with 15 schools was a long process, but everyone was very accommodating and helpful with that.”
She says, since the communication panels were put up on HSD elementary and middle school playgrounds, they’ve had inquiries from other Speech Language Pathologists in the province and was recently invited to give a presentation to the AAC interest group.
“After that, word got out and everybody started contacting me to get the information on how to apply for a grant, and what the process was. And so, I just shared whatever I had because I don't want to keep that information. I want as many people as possible to have access to this.”
When asked why she would help in this way, Marcoux got emotional,
“I just love it. I love communication. I love helping. I love giving kids that don't have a voice, a voice.”
Marcoux adds, in the future, they would like to add QR codes to the panels, so that caregivers and parents who use the playground after school, can link to the Prologuo2go website and learn how to use the communication panel and then help the child at home.
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