Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A QUIETER SCHOOL: AN ENRICHED LEARNING ENVIRONMENT



It is common knowledge to anyone administering a school that lunchrooms, gymnasia, and schoolyards are noisy and, in some cases, actions have been taken to lower the decibel levels in these facilities. However, are administrators aware of the noises to which children are exposed within their classrooms - from the hallways, nearby classes, heating and ventilation systems, adjacent highways, overhead jets, holes cut in walls for electrical wiring or sprinklers, appliances, or over crowdedness? Even if aware, have they done enough to quiet these classrooms?
The aim of this article is to alert school administrators to the effects of noise on children's cognition, reading skills, and learning ability and to suggest ways they can participate in the growing worldwide effort to lessen the din - not only in the school but in children's homes and wherever else children our exposed to noises. Noises are not only hazardous to our children's mental abilities but to their overall well-being as well.

Noise and Hearing

That loud sounds may be harmful to hearing has been accepted for many years but do we realize the number of people suffering actual hearing loss from noise is huge (Bronzaft, 2002)? Of the over 28 million people suffering from hearing loss in the United States, it has been estimated that approximately ten million of these people suffered damage to their hearing because of exposure to noises, primarily in the occupational setting. However, with the introduction of headsets, video arcades, stereo systems and outdoor recreational vehicles, loud noises are not simply confined to the occupational environment. Many people, including children and adults, are now being exposed to very loud sounds in their homes and recreational settings, making them more vulnerable to potential hearing loss. Children attend movies that are too loud, play their video games with loud audio attachments, often walk around with headsets set at high levels, and in too many schools eat in lunchrooms and play in gymnasia that are far too loud. Even at very young ages, children are playing with toys that have been measured at levels exceeding 120 decibels.

Noises Don't Have to Be Loud

Noise has been frequently associated with loud sounds but sounds need not be loud to be disturbing, intrusive, and bothersome. Rather noise should be defined as unwanted, uncontrollable or unpredictable sounds that intrude upon our activities. Noisy neighbors can make it difficult for a child to read, do homework or fall asleep. Several children whispering in the classroom can make it especially difficult for the teacher to transmit information to those children who are listening. A passing elevated train or an overhead jet can bring classroom teaching to a halt.

Impact of Noises on Children's Mental Development

Thirty years ago, Cohen, Glass and Singer (1973) found that children who lived on the lower floors of an apartment complex, which exposed them to nearby traffic noise, had poorer reading scores than children living in the same complex but on higher floors. In their study conducted over twenty years ago, Wachs and Gruen (1982) found that noise in the home impaired a child's cognitive and language development. Noise in schools can also impede the learning process. Bronzaft and McCarthy (1975) examined the reading scores of children attending classes facing a noisy elevated train structure and compared their scores with children attending classes on the quiet side of the building. They found that by the 6th grade, children on the noisy side of the building were nearly a year behind the students on the quiet side. Children exposed to the noisy trains complained that the noise made it difficult for them to think and their teachers complained that they came home more exhausted after teaching in these noisy classrooms. Several years later, after noise-absorbing materials were installed by the Board of Education in the ceilings of the classes facing the tracks and the Transit Authority installed resilient-rubber pads on the adjacent tracks, lowering the noise levels in the classrooms significantly, the reading scores of the students on both sides of the building were examined and now both sets of children were now reading at the same level (Bronzaft, 1981). When something is done to lessen the noise in classrooms, students do better! Bronzaft (2002) provides a more extensive review of the studies that have found that noise interferes with learning.

By contrast, in interviews of older high academic achievers, all members of Phi Beta Kappa, Bronzaft (1996) found that they tended to be reared in homes that respected quiet. These academic achievers remembered that their parents provided them with quiet places to study, read, and think; that television and radios were not blasting in the background, as so often is the case today, when the family sat down for dinner; and that their parents did not generally discipline them by shouting or screaming but used soft, firm voices and disapproving looks. In homes where parents and children share quieter times, there are also more opportunities for parents and children to talk, e.g. at dinner time, children can discuss their work at school or ask for parental advice on numerous matters. One could conclude that the quiet in the households of these high academic achievers contributed to their academic success, as well as to the professional and personal success most of them attained in later life.

Quiet learning environments are a benefit to all students, but most important to students with a hearing disability. These students need a signal to noise ratio on the order of 20 decibels (the teacher must be 20 decibels louder than the background noise). Students in general need at least a 10 decibel signal to noise ration. By contrast, a survey of actual classroom conditions in schools indicated a Speech to Noise ratio range from +5 decibels to -7 decibels.

Despite Knowledge of Noise Impacts, Remedies Lag Behind

Despite the information provided by the many studies that have confirmed the adverse impact of noise on classroom learning (Federal Interagency Committee on Aviation Noise, 2000), too many of our nation's children are still attending schools situated near noisy highways and elevated trains and within the paths of roaring overhead jets. Although there are funding programs to abate intrusive aircraft noises at schools, those parents and school administrators who are aware of such funds have to put up a good fight before these funds are received, if at all.

Additionally the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has decided that qualifying schools must lie within a determined noise contour. This stringent standard has disqualified schools from receiving funding even though they are still exposed to unseemly aircraft intrusions. In their recent study of aircraft noise impacts at several schools near International Newark Airport in New Jersey lying outside the FAA accepted noise contour, Chen and Charuk (2001) found: "Noise during aircraft fly-overs can impact school instructional areas even if the school in not within the DNL 65dBA contour line." Aircraft noise is very likely interfering with learning in these schools.

Many of the most disruptive noise sources are not external to the school, such as jets overhead, but internal. Heat pumps, air-conditioners, and air-handling systems are major classroom noise sources, sometimes located only feet from students. A host of classroom appliances may distract students and make hearing the teacher difficult, including computers, printers, and projectors. Finally, poor acoustical design unnecessarily creates poor learning environments. Open school plans, poor choices for walls, ceiling, and floor materials and inappropriate location of noisy equipment all lead to impoverished learning environments. Good acoustical design seeks to minimize noise while enhancing the sound transmission between the teacher and students.

Promoting a Quieter School Environment

Designing a Quieter School

Educators should be more actively involved in the design of school buildings and familiarize themselves with design features that emphasize quiet. Several resources are available: Classroom Acoustics I and II and "Classroom Design for Good Hearing" by Ewart A. Wetherill provide an excellent overview of good acoustical design and its importance. It is critical to realize that classrooms are either quiet or noisy by design. New standards just adopted by the American National Standards Institute provide important guidance for school administrators considering school construction or renovation.

Abating Noises from Outside the School

With so many schools located near noisy highways, railroads, and airports, principals need to become advocates for lessening the noises from these outside sources. For example, they should inquire as to whether their schools are entitled to city, state or federal funds for noise abatement if these schools are situated too close to a highway or airport. They should be aware of projects to widen highways or expand airports and inform the authorities of the potential impacts on their schools. Twenty years ago, when the principal of P. S. 98 in New York City learned that the Transit Authority was installing noise abatement materials in subway stations, he attended public hearings to urge the transit agency to consider installing abatement materials on the tracks adjacent to his school. He also garnered the support of parents and public officials in his undertaking. As a result, P.S. 98 was the test site for the installation of a new rail fastener to lessen noise on elevated train tracks.

Fostering Quiet in School

Not only should schools design for quiet, they should teach the value of quiet. The League for the Hard of Hearing's Stop the Noise program and their viewer-friendly website (www.lhh.org/noise) with educational materials that can be printed for distribution should be very helpful to teach children the positive effects of quiet in their lives and the hazards of noise. The children's book, Listen to the Raindrops, that I have written with illustrator Steven Parton to teach young children about the beauty of good sounds and the dangers of noise is highlighted on the League site. This book can serve as a teaching aid in the classroom and the school library.

So many of the noises that intrude upon us stem from a lack of respect for the rights of others to quiet. By teaching our children to respect others, they will come to understand that they cannot turn up their home stereos loudly or run through a school hallway shouting or speak loudly in a classroom. Should students lower their voices, then teachers may have less need to shout or use loud whistles and bullhorns to control their students. This does not mean that students can never raise their voices at school games as they root for the home team; there are indeed times when being somewhat louder is tolerable.

Principals and teachers should also examine ways that they can lessen the noise in the school. Teachers have often complained about the piercing sounds of fire drills and principals could investigate whether these sounds could be softened and still serve their primary goal to alert students to danger. Principals can indeed set the tone that a quieter classroom benefits both the teacher and the student.

A Final Word Parents, educators, and caring citizens must join together in abating the noises that are engulfing our children. Then all of us will reap the benefits of a quieter, saner and healthier environment.

By: ARLINE L. BRONZAFT, PH.D.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Remembering Harneak Singh, a true Michaelian

Harneak (second from right) with his friends
I remember meeting Harneak Singh only after my first or second year in St  Michael's Ipoh. He had a penchant for vintage items particularly those which were related to the school. He came to me and introduced himself as an old boy. We struck up a conversation and the topics went from the masters (teachers) he encountered in school, the Brothers and his years at St Michael's.
Harneak was instrumental in setting up the Michaelian Heritage Gallery. He started by lending his collection of old school badges, neck ties and some books and magazines. We started from scratch. It was tough and back-breaking but we managed it through the assistance of many quarters.
Harneak, who left us in 2013, April 8, was a true blue Michaelian. "I have never left school" - was his favourite line he uttered occasionally to anyone who knew him. That's true - his service to the school was impeccable and praise-worthy. Whenever he had a day off from work, he would be in school. He assisted in ensuring that the ethos and tradition of the school was preserved. He advocated the Michaelian spirit and made it relevant. He ensured that the Lasallian way of life at St Michael's Ipoh was practised. Once the air-cond compressor was placed facing the main road by the electrician, marring the school facade. Wasting no time, Harneak pointed this out to the school authority. The compressor was immediately placed to where it belongs now. Over the years, I realise that he was also the one who was behind the production of "Our Story", the A4-sized green book which documents the history of the school.
Harneak was instrumental in getting back the British Battalion plaque from the late Mr Chye Kooi Loong to where it belonged, St Michael's Institution, Ipoh. We were in Kampar to get this done. 
Harneak was also a person who was calm and collected. Once after dinner of the Old Michaelians Association at the old town, he discovered that his car was broken into. A thief gained access into his car by breaking the rear side window. He lost his money but his more treasured possession was his laptop - in the hard drive he stored the data and findings of the school history. He did not feel sorry for himself. He made a police report and a few of the OMA members accompanied him to the police station.
The next day, using his daughter's laptop, he was already at the La Salle Centre to gather again all the documentation he tirelessly collected over the years which demanded a lot of time and energy. He moved on.
Harneak's passing was a shock to many because he went away in a sudden. It has been for more than three years. I am wondering where his son Tasminder Singh is as after his Form Six, I have not heard from him. Do let us know where you are Tasminder.
For many, Harneak was truly a good friend, a reliable buddy and a good listener. For us at St Michael's, he was a gentle soul, an outstanding Michaelian and he will be never be forgotten.

By Peter Khiew

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

REST IN PEACE, BROTHER


Our beloved Dato' Brother Vincent Corkery passed on at Hospital Fatimah today, 22 March 2016. May God grant him eternal rest and bless his soul.His remains will be brought to St Michael's Church and the wake will be held tonight and Wednesday. Funeral is at 10.30am on Thursday, 24th March 2016.

Remembering Brother Vincent
By Leong Yee Thye
Form 5 Arts 1 (1972)


1972
There he walked and stood along the corridors of St. Michael's Forms;
A towering young man who spoke with an accent so different from our norm.
The sight of him from a distance always demanded our attention and respect;
Much more than we usually have for our teachers, with all due respect.
"Good morning, Brother Vincent" we would wished him as he drew near;
With a nod and a smile, he would acknowledged; or with a "Good morning" at times we'd hear. 
Though he never taught us in any of his class, yet we somehow always knew;
His love and concern was for us all Michaelians, and not just for his classes of the privileged few.
O how the years flew by as I now remember Brother Vincent when I was in my teens;
And St. Michael was a place for us to grow and learn, to be valiant and true in every means. 

2015
O how frail Brother Vincent looked as he sat working at his desk some 40 odd years later;
As I dropped in to say hello on my very long delayed first visit to my beloved Alma Mater.
Still his mind and thoughts were clear and his words filled with wisdom;
As we talked about the past and present, and about earth's worldly kingdoms.
He expounded on how enemies would eventually become friends;
As the world continue to spin through time; and just as my visit was about to end.
I asked for a hug when it was time for me to leave;
Not knowing it will be my first and last as I took my leave.
I felt his love and his warmth, just as I have imagined it to be when I was young;
And now he is resting in peace after his duty is done, as one of St. Michael's son.

Good bye Brother Vincent: And though you are with us no more;
Your spirit will live on in St. Michael's corridors forevermore.
May God bless your soul.
Quis Ut Deus

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Welcome back to School...

The Six Pillars of Character

The Six Pillars of Character is a framework for teaching good character and is composed of six ethical values (characteristics) everyone can agree upon: Trustworthiness; Respect; Responsibility; Fairness; Caring; and Citizenship. 

Each of the six character traits are used within our CHARACTER COUNTS! program to help instill a positive learning environment for students and a “culture of kindness” making schools a safe environment for students to learn. The Six Pillars of Character values are not political, religious, or culturally biased. In fact....


See you in school tomorrow, March 21,  2016. Remember the school drama which starts April 15 and ends April 17, 2016. Titled, "Frozen", the school-effort production is not to be missed. Book your tickets by e-mail: peterkhiew@yahoo.com, call the school at 05-2540418 or walk-in. 

The Star, March 11, 2016
Theatre time for students

(From left) School drama production cast members Shannon, Nichol, Lopez and Karran sharing a light moment together while sharing their experiences about acting on stage.

WHEN David Lopez first auditioned for St Michael’s Institution’s upcoming production of computer-animated musical Frozen, he thought he was only going to get the role of a tree.

“But I thought that if that was to be my role, I’m would still do my best to be a fantastic tree,” he said.

Little did the 17-year-old student know that his teacher would call him to offer the role of Kristoff Bjorgman, the ice harvester who later becomes the love interest of protagonist Princess Anna in Disney’s 2013 animated feature film.

Successfully landing a major role in his school’s play, Lopez said he will push himself to embody Kristoff the best he can, adding that there are similarities in both their characters.


“From what I see, Kristoff is a loner, yet he’s quite sassy because of the funny lines he delivers in the movie. He also cares for people deeply even though he doesn’t know how to show it.

“I can relate to the sassy part because I think I’m a sarcastic person myself. But unlike Kristoff, I like surrounding myself with friends.

“I needed to work hard to tap into that part of his character. It’s all part of why I love acting, because as cliche as it sounds, you get the chance to be something more than just your usual self,” he tells MetroPerak.

Like Lopez, Form Three student K. Karran did not expect to land the role of the story’s antagonist Prince Hans, the youngest of 13 sons and prince of the Southern Isles.

“At first I was only acting as an ice worker. And slowly, when students were being switched in and out for a better character fit, I went from being an ice worker to playing Lord Percy, King Agnarr and finally, Hans.

“This character is a bit complex, that’s what makes playing a villain so fun. I stayed up late a lot of nights trying to mimic his facial expressions in the film,” Karran said, jokingly adding that he has lost count over the number of times he had to watch the film to perfect his acting.

For someone who loves Princess Anna as much as Shannon Fernando, one would think it is an ironic yet funny coincidence that the 18-year-old student was chosen to play the role of Anna’s sister, Princess Elsa, in the production.

“Anna is such a happy character, so I can relate to her a lot because I feel that I’m more of a cheerful, happy-go-lucky person.

“Elsa is very much different because she bottles up her feelings, she’s either depressed, sad or angry, so it is quite hard for me to play Elsa,” she said, adding that due to this, she and the rest of the cast would often help each other to work on getting into their respective characters’ moods.

Nichol Chan, an Upper Six student who plays the bubbly and fun-loving Princess Anna.

She says playing one of the most popular modern Disney characters today is nerve-racking because she has a hard time getting used to people staring at her exaggerated expressions on stage.

“It’s a lot to take in, but at a certain point, I just need to learn to stop being self-conscious and let it go,” she said.

Nichol said she loves how Frozen takes a different path in comparison with the storylines of past Disney princess films which often tell the tale of a girl meeting a guy.

“True love doesn’t necessarily have to come from meeting a guy,” she said.

At the helm of the school’s 64th drama production, director and teacher Corrinne Mah said she has a penchant for picking Disney films to work for the school’s drama productions because the new films are more relatable to the young compared to Broadway stories or classical plays.

Starting in 2005, some of the Disney films the school had re-enacted includedBeauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Mulan and Hercules.

“The purpose of our drama production every year is to raise funds for our school’s development, and just like previous years, we aim to achieve our target of RM100,000 through ticket sales and sponsorship,” she said.

Tickets are priced at RM20 and RM50, while sponsorships are RM500 and above.

The school’s production of Frozen will be held from April 15 to 17 at 7.45pm daily.

For details, call 05-254 0418 during office hours.