As the day draws to a close at Freedom Hill Elementary in Vienna, students are anxious and eager to get home. Wednesdays at 2:30 p.m. are the highlight of the week in one classroom for kids with intellectual disabilities. It’s time for them to Zoom with their Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology ‘buddies.’ When four older students appear on the huge screen at the front of the room, four non-verbal youngsters in their desks light up.
One younger kid types on his Voice Output Communication Device with the assistance of an aide, painstakingly tapping the colourful icons on the screen to make a sentence: Please perform a goofy dance! He turns the tablet around to face the camera, excitedly revealing his request. The TJ students on the other end of the Zoom lean in to read the words typed out and begin to chuckle. They all exchange glances before jumping up and doing a goofy dance.
The four non-verbal kids smile as they watch the amusing dance moves on the TV. It’s a happy occasion for everyone. The TJ Assistive Technology (AT) Club revolves around these weekly meetings. The club’s mission is to promote Communication through games, activities, and reading in a fun and interactive way. It’s a chance for the Freedom Hill students to practise on their devices in a comfortable environment.
The basic goal for nonverbal kids is to acquire core words. They practise making short, simple phrases on their tablet by using fundamental nouns, pronouns, and verbs. The TJ students’ activities are centred on that purpose. On Sundays, club members get together to brainstorm and design their games, then spend a few hours coding to bring their ideas to life.