Teachers use microphones in the classroom

In this 2012 file photo, Aiden Fisher, 5, reads a story he wrote in front of his class with the help of a microphone and kindergarten teacher Jen Lammers at Sheridan Elementary. "I like it because it gives me a big voice and everybody listens," Aiden said.

Lincoln Journal Star file photo

Relentlessness and passion.

That’s what supporters say it took for two moms of Lincoln Public Schools students to raise $155,000 for 151 amplification systems now being used in five schools.

“Campaigns are successful because of good leaders,” Pinnacle Bank’s Mark Hesser told them Thursday at a celebration at Prescott Elementary School. “You were relentless and passionate.”

Getting Superintendent Steve Joel on board didn’t hurt, either. It made going to people with their idea easier, and helped convince people it would work.  

Sue Stibal and Beth Brady were sold on research showing classroom amplification systems cut down on behavior problems, increase focus, make kids more engaged in school and help them perform better.

In classrooms with amplification systems, teachers wear microphones on lanyards around their necks, and sound systems amplifies their voices evenly throughout their classrooms so students in the back can hear just as well as students in the front. Students also can use microphones to share their work.

Stibal, whose daughter has a profound hearing loss, and Brady, a speech and language pathologist whose daughter struggled with ear infections as a toddler, already had convinced principals at their own children's schools to use the amplification systems in a few classrooms.

But they wanted to do more. They decided to see if they could convince the district to test the systems in four elementary schools: Sheridan and Kloefkorn, where their own children attend, as well as Prescott and West Lincoln.

They arranged meetings with Joel, Sharon Wherry at the Foundation for Lincoln Public Schools and Hesser at Pinnacle Bank.

Lots of people told them no. Those three did not, nor did the principals at those schools.

That’s what this process taught them: to surround themselves with positive people willing to try something new — to make something happen even if they’re not sure, at the outset, how to do it.

“Surrounding ourselves with ‘yes’ people,” Stibal said. “That’s what we took away from it.”

Joel didn’t take much convincing. He knew about amplification systems, had seen how they work.

“I was not a hard sell on this. I’ve been a fan for a long time,” he said. “Anytime you can provide an intervention that makes a difference, it’s hard to say no.”

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What particularly sold him on Stibal and Brady’s pitch was that they wanted to gather data from the pilot schools to really analyze the difference they could make.

Joel said he’d love to see amplification systems in all schools; but paying for it is a challenge, and he wants to see the data first.

Stibal and Brady got their pilot: A year ago, the school board approved a grant application that committed $40,000 of LPS money with a promise that Stibal and Brady would raise $120,000.

They found donors with the help of the LPS Foundation. The Woods Charitable Fund said yes. So did the Community Health Endowment and the Cooper Foundation. Other community organizations donated, too, as well as family and friends. Pinnacle Bank offered a matching grant, then Hesser went out and raised money to match it.

Today, they’ve surpassed their goal by more than $30,000, raising enough money to put amplification systems in classrooms at Clinton Elementary as well. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Barkley Memorial Center is collecting data, and so far all the teachers who have used the systems love them, Brady said.

On Thursday, Brady and Stibal invited those who’d said yes to a celebration in the Prescott media center.

“From this, we’ve learned what happens when people think big,” Brady said.

Reach Margaret Reist at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com

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Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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