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April 16, 2008 > Special technology

Special technology

By Shari Wargo
Photos By Shari Wargo

The concept of using technology in classrooms to assist both students and teachers with curriculum is not new. However, with school budgets and diminishing funding, a struggle between the need for staff retention, newer buildings and technology is evident.

Though there is no definite answer to this dilemma, Bowman Elementary School in Hayward has overcome some of these obstacles through a unique technology project. Grants totaling over $35,000 were awarded for assistive technology and augmentative communication devices to a Bowman Elementary class of moderately to severely disabled special education students. Funds supplied by United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) Association of the Golden Gate and Best Buy will allow these students to access school curriculum with the assistance of advanced technology. Special devices were shown to the students for the first time during a reception to celebrate the grant and technology project on Wednesday, April 9, about a year after work toward this goal first began.

In March 2007, Barry Gardin, President of the Board for UCP of the Golden Gate, brought the idea of integrating technology into his child's special education classroom to teacher Loren Spina at Bowman Elementary. "Our board wanted to do something to raise awareness about technology in special education. We identified this classroom because Lauren, the teacher, was so enthusiastic about it," said Gardin.

"When he [Gardin] first brought it up, almost causally, I didn't believe it for a long time," said Spina. Gardin developed a grant for the classroom's cause and UCP provided some funding, but more was still needed and Gardin applied for funds through the Best Buy Community Foundation. "The hard part was then, okay, how do we decide what to buy? We started sending out SOS emails to various professionals and people that do this. Jill [Rivers] responded and said that she'd be glad to help us out," said Gardin. Rivers spent months in Spina's classroom to know the students, their personalities, capabilities, disabilities, and curriculum. A list of recommended equipment was developed and "right at that time, a grant that we had written to Best Buy came in. So the timing was good," said Gardin.

When Gardin went to Best Buy to pick up the check for equipment from Ted Widger, general manager of Best Buy in Union City, he discovered that Best Buy was not going to just give him a check, but also participate in the experience. "It [the grant] went through our store basically because we are close by, but when I met Barry, it sounded too exciting to just give money. It was a great opportunity for my experts to participate and help choose some of the products for the project as well as provide technical expertise," said Widger.

The Best Buy Geek Squad put together the equipment and was present to support the classroom on the day of the reception. They also helped train teachers in Spina's classroom to use the equipment. "The computer programs are designed to help them [the students] access the curriculum; it's harder for them to do it in the more traditional way. I always get the sense that they can do more than they have been able to show me, and think this will help them," said Spina.

Lisa Rose, mother of Savanna Rose, age seven and a half and a student in Spina's class for two years, agrees. "I think it [the new equipment] will be great because her [Savanna's] main problem is speech and language. She can use the computer and the picture exchange with talk to help communicate. I'm excited about it. I think it will be really good for her and the other kids."

"It's the chance of a lifetime for a lot of these kids and will make me be more creative," said Spina at Wednesday's reception.

"This came about because of people coming together to think about the students," said Maria Rivera, Bowman Elementary Principal.



For more information about UCP, or about the technology project specifically, call Karen Glatze (510) 832-7430, ext. 4. Or visit www.ucpgg.org.

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