BVSD Microphones: Reasonable upgrade or unnecessary and wasteful spending?

By Paola Iannetta

It was far easier to nap in class to the dulcet tones of Mr. Vacca’s cat videos prior to the arrival of the OSHA approved microphones. The days of catching up on sleep with a sweet little nap in class to the incessant rambling of Boulder High School teachers may be a thing of the past, as BVSD ushers in a new generation of audio enhancement products. All of our favorite educators may no longer have to use their “teacher voices” to be heard. Each and every one of them has been gifted an expensive new microphone to save their vocal chords and wake their students in every lecture, at least those who choose to use them. An anonymous freshman stated “I like the new microphones. I am a quiet person and I am often told to speak louder. With the new microphones, I don’t have to.”

As part of the BVSD bond program, audio enhancement has been installed in most BVSD classrooms with the stated goal of “helping teachers and students hear each other better.” “Listening is learning” or so states the Capital Improvement Planning Committee (CIPC) in their advocacy for inclusion of audio enhancement in the bond master plan and  based on previous research. You can read the CIO Technology blog for more information regarding this improvement. The audio enhancement systems replace and modernize the current sound systems in Boulder classrooms. Part of this change included an upgrade to a single HDMI wall connection which replaces the two VGA wall connections. The advantages of HDMI (digital) over VGA (analog) include that  it carries audio and video in a single cable, that it has flush connector pins that do not bend or break, and that it has higher quality video output. This upgrade required changes to many digital devices in that most old desktops and document cameras were also replaced.

However, cost-conscientious opponents of the million dollar boondoggle are stunned by this luxury. As Rose Ogilvie, freshman math teacher states, “My voice is so loud naturally that I am not using the system because I interrupt the classes near by. The new system makes it very loud for us here in the math wing.” Presumably the bond master plan was written with school needs in mind, yet it is hard to measure such an extravagance with blaring deficits in student and educator needs. As freshman language arts teacher James Vacca explains, “My voice is like a dog whistle…everyone can hear no matter which corner of the room a student is hiding out.”  Most everyone that I asked, said in various ways that the microphones are a waste of money and they haven’t used them for the intended purposes. Not to mention the fact that many teachers struggle to make ends meet and to live within our community due to the rising cost of living, housing inflation, and the lag in teacher salaries compared with other professions of similar education level. BVSD is a wealthy district with higher than average teacher salaries in a state that otherwise resides near the bottom of all states in the country in per pupil education funding and teacher salaries. This was recently highlighted by a statewide teacher protest, Red for Ed, during which tens of thousands of teachers, parents and students marched on the capital to bring awareness to funding shortfalls. Similar protests took place in other states around the nation. While Boulder is an affluent community, there are still those that struggle within this community. According to Feeding America, Map the Food Gap 2017 (insert citation) approximately 15% or roughly 9500 students under 18 years of age in Boulder are food insecure, and 12.8% of the population.

Regardless of public opinion, the audio enhancements are a done deal. Students should have started seeing them rolled out in the classrooms in mid-March. To “bathe the room in clear audio” with these upgrades, the Bond Master Plan dedicated about one million dollars for the upgrade. On the positive side, teachers may not harm their voices trying to be heard over the din of the classroom. Students who can clearly hear their teachers are more likely to succeed, particularly in the areas of spelling and student learning, math skills and concept understanding, as well as demonstrate improvements in classroom behavior, attention and “on task” behavior. “Amy Lears, BVSD Audiologist, explains the vision for audio enhancement as a system that ‘allows for both teachers and students to amplify their voices. Students who tend to be more soft spoken and or shy will be able to use the microphone so all in the learning community can hear their voices, helping them participate and gain confidence in oracy.”

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