Hernando Sun Community Reporter
When a Hernando elementary school vice principal asked the Hernando Computer Club for the donation of a valuable teaching tool, the club answered the 'call.’ Now, all throughout Hernando schools, the whisper of a worthwhile project has evolved into a roar.
To date, the club has delivered about 300 handmade Whisper Phones--fun learning tools that promote reading and phonics skills--to elementary schools in The Hernando School Corp., grades K through 4th.
Whisper Phones now can be found at Spring Hill Elementary, Deltona Elementary, Suncoast Elementary, and Challenger K-8; and this is only the beginning.
"The district is going to need a total of about 7600 phones," reveals Hollis Taylor, Community Liaison Director of the Hernando Computer Club.
This project finds its origins in October 2019, when Taylor asked Maureen Keiper, assistant principal of Deltona Elementary School, what the club could provide for her students in the way of refurbished computers. Her answer surprised him.
"She said that the kids needed Whisper Phones," said Taylor. "I did a double-take. What was a Whisper Phone?"
Likening a play phone in appearance (indeed, students are encouraged to personalize their phones with decorative duct tape), a Whisper Phone is, in fact, a serious and highly effective learning tool and auditory device.
According to information provided by Taylor, the phones--whether used individually or with a pair connected--help children practice reading and speaking skills in a variety of ways.
As the student reads aloud into the receiver, the phone's built-in pipe funnels the sound of the student's voice into his/her ear--all the while funneling out surrounding noise and distractions.
The Whisper Phones enable pupils to concentrate on and comprehend their reading passages, also reading aloud quietly to hear their own voices--in the process enhancing their reading and phonemic skills (meaning their awareness of individual words and sounds) and honing their attention spans and overall language structure.
And when teachers 'listen in on the other line,' via their own phone, they can advise the child of any areas and skills in which they need improvement.
"Ms. Keiper did a demonstration in which she held a phone up to her ear and invited me to do the same," said Taylor. "When you hear your own voice, then you get a feeling that there's no other way to achieve."
Determined to provide the students with the tools they needed to learn and thrive, this 501C3 organization pledged to make all needed Whisper Phones by hand--fabricating each model from pipes, elbows, and PVC adhesive. And in funding the project, they turned to the Hernando community for help.
Lowe's in Spring Hill, under the guidance of assistant manager Josh Wade, donated enough pipes and elbows to make 300 phones. As well as, the Timber Pines Educators Club donated $400 toward the production of more phones.
"The Educators Club's main objective is to help the school children of Hernando County. We do that by volunteering our services, which include tutoring (elementary/junior/senior high, GED), clerical duties (copying tests/homework papers), but also as judges (history and science fairs). We donate throughout the school year (music programs, supply stores, and Whisper Phones)," said Pieter Trappenburg, president of the Timber Pines Educators Club. "It is this last endeavor, Whisper Phones, that our membership has found especially intriguing. A number of our volunteers spend their time with the younger elementary students (K - 3rd grade) and are involved with additional challenges that some students face. Typically, they are hyperactivity related, not fully ADHD, but having similar symptoms like careless mistakes, short attention span, poor listening skills, and the Whisper Phones have been found to be particularly effective."
Trappenburg fully supports the educational value of whisper phones.
"Whisper Phones make the student listen to their own voice, immediately recognizing if they come off too loud, don't pronounce properly, or speak too rapidly," he said. "It forces them to slow down, concentrate on enunciation, and lower their volume. In doing so, they focus on what they're reading and retain more. They do this all on their own, no teacher has to sit with them to achieve these results."
"Consequently, we gladly endorsed this approach and willingly donated to the creation of these devices that the computer club was willing to assemble," he continued. "Some of our tutors have seen and confirmed the effectiveness of these devices.
Kristen Tormey, principal of Spring Hill Elementary, also has seen first hand the immense value of Whisper Phones in her classrooms.
"SHES PreK-2nd grade classes utilize Whisper Phones to encourage reading fluency and automaticity," she said. "Our PreK and Kindergarten classes begin with sight word fluency. First and second-grade classes utilize Whisper Phones
to encourage independent reading. The phone amplifies the sound, in turn, helping students clearly hear the sounds and words promoting phonemic awareness. We cannot thank our community partners enough for their support of early literacy at Spring Hill Elementary."
Hollis Taylor said that many more Whisper Phones are currently in production, to be delivered far and wide across the Hernando school district.
Because it only takes five minutes to make a Whisper Phone and the results of one "call" can last a lifetime.
To support the HCC Whisper Phone effort, call the Hernando Computer Club at 352-684-7171, or visit https://hernandocomputerclub.org/quick-links/contact-us/.