Ferndale School District receives $859,000 grant

Money to fund classroom sound systems
May 19, 2022 at 5:15 a.m.
Updated May 19, 2022 at 11:53 a.m.
Teacher Kersten Fairbairn wears a wireless microphone, transmitting her voice to students through a speaker, during her class at Custer Elementary on May 16.
Teacher Kersten Fairbairn wears a wireless microphone, transmitting her voice to students through a speaker, during her class at Custer Elementary on May 16. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)

Staff Reporter

Teachers have always been known for having their eyes in the back of their heads, but now their voices will be all over the room and even in some students’ ears, literally.

By the start of next year, every classroom from preschool through eighth grade in the Ferndale School District will have state-of-the-art sound field systems designed to improve communication and increase student attentiveness.

The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction awarded the district $859,000 from the Digital Equity and Inclusion Grant for the district to buy 223 in-classroom sound systems and 945 Chromebooks, and to provide professionals to instruct teachers on how to use the new systems.

Soon, teachers will be able to roam the classroom while wearing a wireless microphone necklace and have their voice instantly broadcast to a tall, standing speaker for students to hear.

“Being able to have a sound system that will directly connect with all of our learning tools is just a fantastic thing,” said Tessa Briggs, a kindergarten teacher at Custer Elementary School. Briggs piloted the new sound system in her classroom earlier this year.

Teachers said the system promotes attentiveness because they can get their own voices above students, no matter the decibel of sound. The clarity of sound also increases student comprehension. 

photo  The tall, standing speaker transmits Kersten Fairbairn's voice to her students sitting in the back of the circle. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)  

The microphones also connect directly with students’ hearing aids, ensuring those who are hard of hearing don’t miss a sentence or an instruction from their teacher.

“We’re hoping to get to a point where we are being more preventative and proactive, rather than reactive,” said Sara Dessert, the director of the district’s Multi-Tiered Systems of Support program. “We are removing that barrier ahead of time.”

Kersten Fairbairn, a first- and second-grade teacher at Custer, has a hard-of-hearing student in her classroom who has been much more on task and performing better since she began piloting the system in January. The student won't miss valuable instruction because of the barrier. 

Currently, the Ferndale School District has 17 students who are known to be hard of hearing.

Students who are learning English as a second language also benefit because they can clearly hear what the teacher is saying, Briggs said.

In addition to the teacher’s microphone, there is a wireless, handheld microphone for students to use and project their voices around the room.

“They can practice their own speaking and listening skills, not just from the teacher, but from student to student,” Briggs said. “Peer communicating really improves with that so they can learn some public-speaking strategies.”

Beyond that, teachers are able to hear their students more clearly, further enabling two-way communication.

The district just received several pallets full of equipment and is developing training for staff to learn to use the new systems, Director of Technology Martina Su said.

A previous version of this story misspelled Martina Su's name. The story was update to reflect this change on May 19, 2022 at 11:55 a.m. The Cascadia Daily News regrets the error.

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