Jennifer Topple, who’s the school’s Director of Assistive and Instructional Technology — and was recently elected Chair of the International Dyslexia Association — said introducing assistive technology at a young age has proven beneficial to the students.
“One thing that surprises a lot of people is that we implement the use of assistive technology at such a young age,” Topple said. “In many schools, assistive technology is viewed as a last-ditch effort. We don’t want to run the risk of children losing their love of reading. We believe that with early intervention, children will maintain a feeling of success in school.”
Howard, a private school that includes many students who have not succeeded elsewhere, features a classroom structure consisting of 12 students with a lead and support teacher, along with a speech language pathlogist and literacy specialist for every four classes. Topple said 85-90 percent of the school’s graduates enter college.
Howard’s students rave about the assistive technology. Jack, a 13-year-old middle school student, said “assistive technology changed my life. I used to not be able to read, but now I can.” Hope, a 12-year-old middle-schooler, noted “the technology helped me through my life because now I can write more long words.
“I used to hate reading, but now I can read more complex books that I enjoy,” she said.
Topple said those success stories are a far cry from what she hears from many of the students when they first arrive at Howard.
“Students walk into my office already defeated,” Topple said. “They’re at our school because they failed somewhere else. One student recalled returning to school each fall only to find more students around him who had ‘magically’ learned to read over the summer. He didn’t understand why he didn’t learn to read like everyone else.”
Text to speech software allows students to read on computers, laptops or iPads. The text is highlighted as the software reads the words allowed. Topple said all of the school’s textbooks are scanned by nearby Georgia Tech’s Alternative Media Access Center, allowing all students access to curricular materials.
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