In a world that is louder and noisier than ever, it’s hard to imagine a school bus would be a place of peace and quiet. But the interior of the bright yellow bus parked behind Moody Elementary School has a space that is so quiet - a small sound booth nicknamed the “refrigerator” - you can hear your heart beating. First grader Ruby B. is tucked away in that space, intently listening for a soft tone to arrive in her earphones as part of a hearing test administered by Littleton Public Schools.
Outside the booth, Carie Jo Yeanoplos, an LPS Hearing and Vision Tech with 12 years of testing experience, adjusts the silver dials on the audiometer to send one of eight tones to the student’s headset. Ruby knows to raise her hand when she hears something, and within seconds, her tiny hand shoots up when the tone arrives. Yeanoplos watches through a window and records the visual response from outside the booth.
The testing is non-invasive and quick, allowing more than 30 kids to be tested in an hour. After barely a minute in the booth, second grader Xavier R. pushed the heavy door open and heard Yeanoplos announce, “Good job Xavier...your hearing is just fine!” He slipped the headphones off and headed to the back of the Vision and Hearing Testing Center bus for his vision screening. The Hearing and Vision staff include Techs Misty Fritz and Celeste Eft, with Fritz in the back working with second grader Harper A., asking her to read letters on a chart mounted on a wall in the middle of the bus, exactly 10 feet away.
Second grader Xavier R. completes his hearing test with LPS Vision and Hearing Tech Carie Jo Yeanoplos.
According to experts, vision screening is particularly important for the younger kids, because some have never had clear vision and don’t know they need glasses - they simply don’t know any different. “Fuzzy and blurry is the way they have always seen the world, and to them it’s normal,” said Fritz. “The screenings determine what their ‘normal’ is and whether it is good enough to see well in school.” Because the hearing and vision screenings are mandated by the State of Colorado for students in kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th grades, the bus moves across the district to different schools throughout the entire school year.
While Xavier took his vision test, another student moved into the sound booth. Three more kids are escorted onto the bus by Moody parent volunteer Meghan Conover as the first three return to class.
The bus provides mobility and convenience, giving the district a unique setup for accurate screenings. “Not many school districts have a hearing and vision bus,” said Debra Draus, the LPS Audiologist. “It’s a big advantage for LPS because hearing testing requires a nearly soundproof room, and most school buildings don’t have anything approaching a quiet space - even the library is too loud with classes coming and going in the background. Our bus is a controlled environment with a booth and is accessible all the time, so our staff members can administer thorough screenings and care for more students.”
Draus, who has a Clinical Doctorate in Audiology and a Specialty Certification in Pediatric Audiology, oversees the free Hearing and Vision Screening Program for Littleton Public Schools. “After the tests are completed, teachers are informed of kids from their classes that fail, and a summary is prepared for the school. Parents receive a letter from LPS about a screening fail and are encouraged to come to our Village North site for a free diagnostic hearing test - that way we can give parents more information about whatever issue we find.” While LPS does not offer follow-up vision testing, families are encouraged to visit a specialist of their choice.
Moody Elementary second graders Harper A., Collin M. and Xavier R. take the distance vision test.
Students with hearing loss are monitored year-to-year to help parents know if there are changes. Occasionally a kid will forget to wear their glasses on testing day, so the district keeps a list of who wears glasses so the student can be “reminded” to come back the next day - with their glasses - for retesting. All vision and hearing results are kept for students while they are in the LPS system.
As the next wave of students await their turn, second grader Max M. talked about what he remembered from the last time he wore the test headphones, declaring that, “it sounded like the inside of a haunted house - like a ghost is talking to you!” In reality, while the tones might sound eerie, they actually range in frequency from 500-6000 hertz and are delivered at a gentle 20 decibels in the headset.
Jacob W. has his headset adjusted by Carie Jo Yeanoplos before his hearing screening while Xavier R., Riley S., Mason V.R. and David P. wait their turn inside the Hearing and Vision Testing Center Bus.
Featured image: First grader Ruby B. intently listens for a soft tone to arrive in her earphones as part of a hearing test administered by Littleton Public Schools.