Twin techies agree Rotary grant rocks

Six-year-old brothers Zeke and Eli have their differences. Zeke likes blue. Eli prefers red and has lost way more teeth. 

They also have a lot in common. Both were born with hearing loss, and both refuse to let that stand in their way.

And they're both more than happy to demonstrate learning games on one of the new Chromebooks at Carle Auditory Oral School (CAOS). Thanks to a generous grant from the Champaign Rotary Club, the staff at CAOS combines high-caliber teaching methods with more high-end technology.

The grant helped CAOS buy 12 Chromebooks and eight ComPilots, devices that act like a Bluetooth for students with hearing loss.  

"The old laptops were nearing the end of their shelf life," said Brittney Wetherell, a CAOS speech-language pathologist. "It was discouraging for the kids because they would make progress on their learning programs only to have it all erased when the computers shut down."

As Zeke and Eli interacted with giraffes and zebras on a digital safari, learning seemed the last thing on the twins' minds.

According to Wetherell, that's exactly the point. 

"It's learning in disguise," she said. "These programs are great because they're academic-based but fun."

ComPilots add a layer of learning to the classroom. Students wear ComPilots like a necklace or lanyard, giving them direct auditory access to the laptop. 

"Before we had the ComPilots, we got feedback from some of the students' hearing devices. It was distracting," Wetherell said. "That's no longer an issue."

Debra Riffle, CAOS enrichment teacher, is as grateful for the new tech as the kids.   

"I teach one of the younger classes, and it gives them a nice break from their normal schoolwork," Riffle said. "With the interactive programs, the kids have more control and can learn at their own pace."

As the school year comes to a close, the latest round of CAOS grads are among the first to benefit from the Rotary Club's grant. They won't be the last.

"If we weren't given this grant, we would not have been able to get this technology on our own," Riffle said. "It's a gift. It's a total gift."

Another thing Zeke and Eli have in common? Being as excited as Riffle about the cool new tech at CAOS.

Learn more about CAOS enrollment for children with hearing loss as well as those with normal hearing. CAOS is funded in part by generous donations to Carle Center for Philanthropy.