How Rio Rancho schools support equitable learning with instructional audio

We’ve built amplification systems directly into the DNA of our new schools.
Terri Meier
Terri Meier
Terri Meier is the director of education technology at Rio Rancho Public Schools in New Mexico.

Heading into this school year, educators have many concerns for their students as many prepare to sit at their desks for the first time in two years. Among these concerns are questions like, “When is the last time my students sat in a classroom?”, “How do I address the learning gaps my students may be facing and improve test results?” How can districts support their teachers and students in the classroom?

At Rio Rancho Public Schools in New Mexico, we’ve known that amplifying a teacher’s voice in a classroom could help improve test scores, increase all students’ comprehension, and even curtail disruptions to improve a student’s learning environment. Furthermore, studies have shown that schools can lower special education referrals by using a sound amplification system in their classrooms.

For most schools, this means buying microphones and speakers to retrofit their classrooms. And while that solution does indeed deliver the promised benefits, at Rio Rancho, we’ve taken things one step further and built amplification systems directly into the DNA of our new schools.

Instructional audio at Rio Rancho

The Rio Rancho district was formed in 1994 when we split off from Albuquerque Public Schools. With 17,300 students and 19 physical schools, we’re now the third-largest district in the state.

In 2008, our district started building V. Sue Cleveland High School. During construction, we realized that many of the surfaces within the school—from floors to walls to windows—were hard surfaces. This posed a challenge for proper acoustics for learning.

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A study facilitated by Miami-Dade County Public Schools found that 97% of classrooms do not meet recommended acoustical standards. In addition, ambient noise, whether from outside the building, the classroom next door or even within the classroom itself, is a major problem for schools, creating yet another barrier for students to hear their teachers clearly.

When we set out to build this school, we quickly decided that acoustic enhancements would be a standard element in every one of our 230 classrooms. In fact, we took the same approach with two other schools we built that year and were one of the first districts in the state to make these considerations a standard part of our schools’ design.

Over the years, we have implemented a variety of Lightspeed’s instructional audio systems to meet the specific needs of classroom design and function. With our newer schools, we found the 975 system to be a great choice as it leverages our existing classroom speakers. This ensures that a teacher can be heard clearly by the whole class, whether they are writing on a whiteboard or walking between small group stations.

Equitable and invaluable

Selecting instructional audio solutions at the beginning of construction is a solid foundation to create successful learning environments. But we also had multiple schools that were already built and in need of instructional audio. In those instances, we chose a system that could be set up inside an existing classroom more easily. The ease of setup and flexibility of this system meant that every student, regardless of ability, was experiencing the same classroom environment to serve their listening needs.

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In addition to being cost-effective solutions to implement in our classrooms, these instructional audio systems had an immediate impact on teaching and learning—a huge win for our educators and students alike. Furthermore, our teachers were thrilled that there was little to no training needed. In fact, the biggest feedback I get on these systems is from school principals, who always ask, “When can we get more?” These systems are a staple in our schools as they make learning more equitable and give our teachers an invaluable tool.

Thanks to instructional audio, our educators no longer have to strain their voices to be heard—and perhaps more importantly, our students can clearly hear what is being taught.

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