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Technology reconnects homebound teacher with special ed students
[March 31, 2008]

Technology reconnects homebound teacher with special ed students

(The Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Mar. 31--NORMAL -- A Kingsley Junior High School student danced with joy and clapped his hands after he saw his teacher's face and heard her voice with the help of technology.

It had been too long.

Special education teacher Barb Hartseil was in a serious car accident in late January, and her five students really needed to know she was OK after a nearly two-month absence. Modern technology allayed their fears, with students and teacher using video-conferencing software to see and hear each other.

Now, Cody Gravett, 14, and his classmates regularly see and hear their teacher as she recuperates from two broken legs.

"She works with students with autism and we were discovering that the students were having an exceptionally difficult time with her absence," said Nora Bardi, the school's assistive technology coordinator.

"It's wonderful what technology can do," said Rita Gyires, technology training coordinator for Normal-based Unit 5 schools.

Hartseil might return to the classroom by May. In the meantime, the students have regularly scheduled interactive visits with their teacher and can be quickly connected to her if they have an urgent need.

"They didn't understand what happened to her," said substitute teacher Debbi Ware.

"We miss her a lot. She's a great teacher," said Janie Zalesiak, a teaching assistant for the class, along with Ritchie Thompson and Katie Eichoff.

The technology "is fabulous," said Hartseil, who has been sending prepared lessons and communicates with the teaching team frequently. "I'm incredibly grateful to the district. ... It shows their respect for the needs of students."

Kingsley Principal Lynette Mehall said Hartseil goes "above and beyond."

"With these students, the relationship is No. 1," and Hartseil is very aware of that, Mehall said.

At the moment, Hartseil uses a wheelchair to get around her house. A laptop computer, a Christmas gifts from sons Bryce and Ezra, has become her command post.

Hartseil has taught about 14 years. For several years, she was with the district's program for homebound students.

Ironically, "now I'm homebound," she said.

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