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LIKE CIRCUIT RIDERS OF THE OLD WEST, TODAY'S ITINERANT TEACHERS BLAZE NEW TRAILS WITH CELLULAR PHONE TECHNOLOGY

 LIKE CIRCUIT RIDERS OF THE OLD WEST, TODAY'S ITINERANT TEACHERS
 BLAZE NEW TRAILS WITH CELLULAR PHONE TECHNOLOGY
 DALLAS, April 22 /PRNewswire/ -- Imagine you made an appointment with someone for 9 a.m. on a Monday morning. To reach your destination of 125 miles, you have to leave the house by 6:15 a.m. You arrive at your destination at 8:45 a.m. only to find the person you were supposed to see is not available.
 Frustrating? You bet, but what if this happened to you on the average of once a week? That's a horse of a different color and just one of many problems itinerant teachers for the blind and visually handicapped in Texas face on a regular basis.
 "I have driven over 130 miles in one day to see four different students in four different places only to find every single one not there," says Frankie Swift, itinerant teacher at the Education Service Center for Region 15 in San Angelo, Texas. "If I could have been reached while on the road, it would have avoided useless frustration and saved a lot of wasted time."
 The problem could probably be solved with just one phone call, but that's the catch. The itinerant teacher covers a large territory bringing specialized instruction to blind and visually handicapped children. These teachers are constantly on the road. They have to start out so early that they are unable to be reached by conventional phones in time to avoid the wasted trip.
 Each teacher also has their own personal handicap that she or he has to deal with on a daily basis -- lack of communication with their students' parents, the principals and teachers in the public school districts, their vendors that supply instruction materials and their own offices. The primary way they communicate with these people is through a pay phone. Unfortunately those are hard to find along many rural stretches of highway. So what's the solution? Cellular technology.
 Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems along with the University of Texas at Austin, Department of Special Education is conducting a cellular trial. This is being done in hope of alleviating the communication plight of itinerant teachers.
 Twenty-five itinerant teachers representing 12 of the 20 Educational Service Centers throughout the state are participating in the trial. The areas in which the teachers work include numerous rural areas as well as the metropolitan areas in north, south, east, west and central Texas.
 Each teacher is equipped with a portable cellular phone that will work off a car cigarette lighter, an adapter or its own internal battery. A teacher can take it with her or him and use it practically anywhere.
 Preparation for the trial began in December 1991 with the participating teachers keeping daily telephone logs of calls made and received. The teachers will continue to keep logs and track their calls during the trial to gauge increased productivity and time-saving benefits using cellular phones.
 "I am so excited about the trial," says Dr. Anne Corn, professor and coordinator of programs for the visually handicapped in the Special Education Department at the University of Texas at Austin. "I had been thinking about the idea of cellular phones for the itinerant teachers, but hadn't put it into action until a chance meeting with John Stupka on an airplane."
 "We were talking and she mentioned the communication difficulties the itinerant teachers face while traveling to reach visually handicapped children in outlying regions of Texas," says Stupka, president and chief executive officer of Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems. "Through our conversation I realized that cellular technology could benefit the itinerant teacher by opening their lines of communication and giving them a personal sense of security."
 Being an itinerant teacher who works with blind and visually impaired children involves specialties in many areas. He or she not only works with the student's need to learn daily life and educational skills but also educates the student's parents and teachers in the public schools.
 Instruction for the blind and visually impaired begins from the moment of diagnosis. Many times students are infants of no more than a few months old. Students receive this type of specialized education up to 22 years of age and learn everything from how to walk across a room to learning about objects such as clouds and stars. They are taught everyday life skills that would usually be done using vision such as how to shop in a grocery store or how to find their way in an unfamiliar area.
 The reason the itinerant teacher takes on so many roles is because many students, though not all, have other problems in addition to being blind or visually impaired. Many children have fragile health, multiple physical handicaps along with possible mental retardation.
 The challenge of the Department of Special Education at the University of Texas at Austin is to recruit and train additional teachers for the program. Currently there are 235 teachers; although it is estimated that 400 teachers are needed to meet the current demand in Texas.
 "As a result, these teachers have large case loads and more distance to cover, and therefore spend more time in their cars," said Dr. Corn. "Because of the heavy load placed on each teacher and problems that the lack of communication has caused, we often worry about 'burn out' becoming a problem for itinerant teachers. But of course there are always those who thrive on the educational challenges and feelings of independence which comes with this type of teaching."
 Debbie Thompson is an itinerant teacher at the Education Service Center in Region 20 in San Antonio, Texas. She has been working with blind and visually impaired students for 13 years.
 Her closest student is 70 miles away and her farthest is 140 miles away. She usually leaves her home at 6:30 a.m. for her first appointment. After a full day, she heads back home at 4:30 p.m.
 Adolph Eric Gonzales, one of the infants she works with, is only 15 months old. She began working with him at the age of 6 months. Adolph has very poor vision along with signs of mental retardation and cerebral palsy.
 "This baby's prognosis for improvement was not high. But after a year of various types of therapy and stimulation, I was able to see progress," says Thompson. "Sometimes it can take up to two years for a breakthrough, but it happens, it is very exciting and rewarding."
 "He didn't respond to Debbie for the longest time," says Velma Gonzales, Adolph's mother. "But now he brings his hands together and imitates sounds that she makes. He had never done that before."
 Visually impaired students aren't the only ones on the receiving end of the itinerant teacher's instruction. Sometimes other teachers become students themselves.
 "Many teachers don't know how to deal with visually handicapped students in their classrooms," says Dr. Corn. "A perfect example is when a chemistry teacher came to me and said, 'How do I teach chemistry to a child like this? What about lab work?'
 "These questions are often raised and the itinerant teacher who has special training with the child's needs and limitations helps teachers do their best in educating this type of student," says Dr. Corn.
 Frankie Swift, like many of her students, has been viewed in a different light by those around her.
 Swift has been an itinerant teacher for the past six years. She works with blind and visually impaired children and their families near the Mexican border. Many of the people in the area of Del Rio, Texas remain close to old traditions.
 Some of the families of her students continued to take their children across the border to the witch doctors and medicine men for treatment and cures. Sometimes it took up to six months for those families to accept her.
 "At one house, the family accused me of putting an evil eye on the child because the day I had come to visit the child, the child got sick," said Swift.
 Many of the things itinerant teachers discuss with parents or other teachers are about sensitive issues regarding their students -- issues you wouldn't normally discuss in a public area. Cellular phones allow teachers to carry on those conversations in the privacy of their vehicles instead of at a pay phone or in a public office at the school.
 "Many of my conversations about my students contain sensitive material. I prefer to speak with a student's parents or other teachers involved with the student's progress in private," says Swift.
 The cellular phone will also aid areas of productivity and planning as well as provide teachers with more of a sense of personal security.
 "Nothing is more discouraging than to go way out to meet with a student only to find that student sick and not able to work with you," says Thompson. "It tends to throw all your scheduling and lesson plans off. This is a common occurrence when you work with children with multiple handicaps and fragile health.
 "That's why I am looking forward to this trial because now I can be reached before I go over 100 miles and have to turn back," continues Thompson. "My job is so rewarding, and this way I'll have extra time to dedicate to my students rather than spending it on the road."
 "Quality education is a right all children should have," said Stupka. "But for disabled children, it's essential if they are to overcome their disabilities and lead meaningful lives.
 "By taking cellular technology into the classroom, we're opening lines of communication that lead to new avenues in meeting their needs," he concluded.
 "This technology has the potential to not only help the itinerant teachers but also other teachers, the students and the communities that the itinerant teachers serve," says Corn. "With the partnership of the business world and education, we can work together to solve the communication problems of itinerant teachers."
 -0- 4/22/92
 /CONTACT: Dr. Anne Corn of the University of Texas at Austin, 512-471-4161; or Walter F. Patterson of Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems, 214-733-2132/ CO: Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems ST: Texas IN: TLS SU:


BB -- DV006 -- 1214 04/22/92 11:30 EDT
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