One of Tim Fazio's problems is his pitch, but not on the baseball field. Fazio, 16, is a hearing-impaired student at Chamberlain High School who, until two weeks ago, had no idea how shrill his voice is.
Now, he can see the problem, and he's learning to correct it _ thanks to a new computer at the school.
"Say your name," said the school's speech therapist, Josie Dworzanowski, in sign language.
Fazio picked up the microphone attached to the IBM Speech Viewer computer and said his name. As he did, a red line inside the thermometer pictured on the screen in front of him hit the 500 mark.
He lowered his voice, and the thermometer registered 200.
"We're trying to bring him down consistently under 200," Mrs. Dworzanowski said. "If these kids had had this as young children, their speech would be much better."
The new computer is one of several pieces of state-of-the-art equipment Chamberlain has acquired in the last two years as part of a program that promises to turn the 34-year-old school into a model of modern technology.
Chamberlain is one of five schools in Florida chosen to participate in the Model Technology School (MTS) project.
Since July 1988, the school has received approximately $316,000 in state grant money for the project, along with $161,000 from the Hillsborough County school district and $100,000 worth of in-kind donations from private businesses, according to Larry Nanns, coordinator of Chamberlain's project.
Through the project, a teacher in South Carolina teaches Russian to Chamberlain students, along with students in 150 other classrooms around the country, via satellite. The students can see and hear the instructor on a live telecast and talk to her through a dedicated telephone line.
The school newspaper is produced entirely by computer, enabling the school to eliminate typesetting costs. As a result, students are no longer charged 25 cents per copy of the paper.
And through a computer in the media center, students can correspond directly with students in Belgium, the Netherlands and a number of other countries linked to the same system.
Chamberlain's MTS program was one stop on a tour of Hillsborough County school programs that members of the state House Appropriations Subcommittee took last week. The committee has been visiting a number of school districts in the state, learning about accomplishments and needs in
education, according to Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa.
"We are trying to look at teacher productivity to see how we can free up teacher time so they will have more time to spend with students," Nanns told the committee members, who were seeing how easy it was for an English teacher to average students' grades using a computer in her department.
Being able to spend more time with individual students is one of the things Mrs. Dworzanowski says she likes best about the Speech Viewer, the first new computer purchased through the program specifically for the school's exceptional-education department.
Because the computer gives direct feedback to hearing-impaired students, they can use it on their own while Mrs. Dworzanowski works with other students, she said.
"Plus, I see a change in the desire to try," she said.
Before the computer came along, working with Fazio to improve his pitch meant day after day of tedium and frustration.
"They get tired of sitting in front of you with you saying, "No, no, no,' " she said. "We just couldn't get it across to him" what he was doing wrong.
With the new computer, it was instantly clear.
"It helps me practice my voice," said Fazio, who wants to go to college and eventually teach electronics or work with computers.
Advanced technology is being used at Chamberlain to enhance the skills of other disabled students, according to David Mariotti, who heads the school's department of exceptional education.
With 35 students in the program, the school has one of the most extensive exceptional-education departments in the county, Mariotti said.
"It's a stroke of luck to be at this school," he said. "We're hoping to use this technology to develop skills that can translate into employment . . . for physically impaired students who have motor disabilities."
Nelcie Montoya, a 19-year-old student with cerebral palsy, has little control over her hands. To compensate, she uses a computer keyboard fitted with a special plastic cover. She can rest her hands on the cover and reach the keys by sticking her fingers through holes in the plastic. Without this cover, she couldn't control which keys her hands would be pressing.
Billy Hamm, also a 19-year-old Chamberlain student, is making strides in communication through another computer.
Hamm sustained irreversible brain-damage in an automobile accident when he was 14, Mariotti said. The student's intelligence is about average, but he has severe physical disabilities. He uses a wheelchair, has limited vision, cannot speak and, while he has the use of his right arm, he has little control of his right hand.
Since his accident, Hamm has communicated primarily through sign-language _ spelling out words letter-by-letter _ or by pointing out words and phrases on a language board, Mariotti said.
Now he is learning word processing on the Apple II Talking Textwriter. A computer voice "says" whatever Billy types on the screen, helping him "talk" to others.
"This is giving Billy a little more independence," Mariotti said as Hamm typed "archaeology," part of his vocabulary lesson on a recent school day.
The Talking Textwriter was purchased by the school a year ago with money provided through the district's exceptional-education department, but Mariotti said he is looking forward to receiving more such equipment for his students through the MTS program during the next few years.
"What we need are updated versions of computers, adaptive equipment and adaptive devices," he said. "We're getting there."