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Woodford Academy Brings Inclusive Communication to the Playground

Woodford Academy staff and students of all abilities will be better able to connect with each other on the playground thanks to a large-scale communication board installed just in time for International AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Awareness) month.

The boards, part of the new Project Connect Everywhere initiative, were spearheaded and designed by speech pathologist Katrina Bakas and feature words and illustrations that reflect common objects, actions and emotions experienced while engaging in play. The boards are intended to foster inclusive communication between speaking and non-speaking individuals by promoting language as power to express thoughts. The goal is to give everyone the ability to have a conversation by modeling proactive communication in a different way and by building peer interactions.

Woodford Academy is an ideal early adopter of the initiative because “community and inclusivity are a part of who we are,” said Bakas, who attributes this to the diverse populations within the school.

Bakas collaborated with CPS facilities and school teams to select playground sites for the boards, including Terry Lockhart; Danielle Gray, principal, Woodford Academy; Kynda Few, principal, Roselawn Condon School; Britni Tudor, principal, Evanston Academy; and Dr. Terrez Thomas, principal, Carson School.

Research within CPS classrooms using communication boards has shown that students who were previously non-speaking boosted their verbal interactions in just four weeks. 

“By having core boards in settings outside of the classroom, language becomes natural and not prescriptive,” said Bakas. “Students understand that effective communication is a way of life.”

Project Connect Everywhere have installed communication boards at Roselawn Condon, Evanston and Carson playgrounds using donated time and materials by CPS facilities. It plans to conduct staff training and to host parent engagement events during conference times.

“We anticipate that the installation and use of these boards will help students gain access to literacy and spoken communication in all four buildings and are excited to follow the project through the year,” said Bakas.