South Jersey School Communication Board will help non-verbal students

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VINELAND – Students at Barse Elementary School have a colorful new addition to their playground: an innovative communication board. The new tool, introduced by speech-language pathologist Montana Jacobs, will allow non-verbal students to communicate by pointing at pictures to express their thoughts and feelings.

“We had seen a few local parks that had these signs, and we thought that with the population we serve here, some of them not speaking, others having communication issues, we could supplement their ability to communicate on the playing field without having to carry a book or a board, ”said Jacobs.

The board also helps bridge the gap between students with communication challenges and the general population. With pictures and symbols available to all students, the board allows those who use non-verbal forms of communication to continue participating in the conversations.

“We thought it would be something for everyone,” Jacobs said. “Not just for our children who have difficulty communicating, but also to encourage acceptance and understanding.”

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Jacobs worked with the school’s independent teachers to design the board using pictures and words that the students would be familiar with. Then, with the support of Barse’s principal, Joe Camardo, and the district’s director of special education, Teri Godlewski, Jacobs created and installed the board on the playground behind the school.

“It was really a team effort,” said Jacobs. “It’s something simple, and I think the benefits are going to be huge.”

Grade 3 students Abby Gentile and Airesellis Dawkins had both noticed the board on the playing field but had yet to have a chance to use it.

“It helps kids who can’t talk to be able to talk to us,” Airesellis explained. “Then we can help them with things or play together. “

Jacobs said she and the staff had a few different plans to familiarize students with the board and make it functional. Independent students will use it in their small groups, taking turns asking the board for options and then filling them out.

The goal is ultimately to involve the whole school.

“I have a really good group of kids who just speak word and enjoy being involved in things,” Jacobs said. “We would like to do something where they take the lead when they’re all at recess, kind of showing each other just to try it out and cheer each other on.”

She thinks it will take some time for it to become mainstream, but it will be worth it.

“I think once he gets to that level of familiarity it will be a really cool thing for everyone.”

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