Children, who rely on alternative means to communicate, will have an easier time thanks to a project initiated by the Old Bridge Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA).
Core Communication Boards, which are made up of a symbol-based communication system, will be installed by the Old Bridge Maintenance Department in high traffic locations including, elementary all-purpose rooms, secondary gyms, cafeterias, and one at Lombardi Field. Additionally, some of the signs with foldable tripods will be placed around school buildings at the discretion of the building principals.
The boards contain clearly marked words and brightly colored symbols that students will point to when asked questions. For example, if a student would want to ask another student to go on a slide, he might point to that picture.
“The Communication Board project undertaken by SEPTA and our district Speech Language Specialists with a helpful and healthy contribution from the OBEA has shown what the Old Bridge community of parents and staff can do when united around a project,” said James Tuohy, assistant superintendent of education programs. “Not only will these communication boards have an impact within our schools and playgrounds as the students return to school for in-person instruction, but it will have lasting impacts on the school community for many years to come.”
Diane Michael, SEPTA president, explained while these boards are typically used by students who are unable to use verbal speech to communicate, they also can be used by all children to foster communication and socialization.
“Communication Boards promote both independence and inclusion opportunities,’ said Michael. Each year SEPTA raises funds to complete a phase of its initiative, providing supplies, equipment and programs to all the special education classrooms in the Old Bridge Public School District.
Phase III of the initiative began as a collaborative idea among numerous SEPTA members whose children rely on alternative communication and would benefit from having more diverse communication opportunities throughout their school environment, said Michael.
With the assistance of the Old Bridge Speech and Language Department and the Old Bridge Education Association (OBEA), SEPTA produced 130 communication boards for the district at a cost of about $3,500. The boards took about six weeks to complete; SEPTA utilized software it was gifted in 2020.
“They put so much effort as a team, individualizing each and every one of these boards specific to the environment it serves,” said Michael of the members of the Speech and Language Department. “Their expertise in this field is exceptional. We couldn’t be prouder to have such incredible therapists working with and for our children.”
With support from Nancy Cogland, a paraprofessional and a unit director of the OBEA, funds were secured from a Pride Grant to fund the project. Pride Grants are given by NJEA through each of each locals to strengthen the relationship between staff and community.
“Nancy (Cogland) not only provides us funding, but she also is an integral part of our team on every project we engage in together,” said Michael.