Since 1964, the Child Development Center on Cherry Street has fulfilled the needs of countless children, according to its website. This private preschool offers enrollment to 88 children at a time and various services are brought into play, including a deaf and hard of hearing program.
Housed in the Communication Sciences and Disorders department, this program is geared toward children ages 3-5.
“We provide a service to the community and give real-life experience to our students working towards their masters to become certified teachers in the program,” Tara Oetting, director and head teacher of the department, said.
According to Oetting, it is imperative to educate and graduate as many teachers as possible to send out to areas in need of someone trained to serve deaf or hard of hearing children.
“Not every teacher knows how to successfully teach a child with a hearing loss, just as not every teacher is capable of teaching math or science to middle and high school students,” Oetting said.
Within the deaf and hard of hearing school, mainstream classrooms are rare as more individualized learning is prominent.
“I call it ‘self contained,’ where teachers give one-on-one instruction or small groups are formed,” said Sonia Arora, visiting assistant professor and family counselor. “Sometimes ‘reverse mainstream’ is utilized, where hearing siblings attend these classes.”
The preschool is in session Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon and an observation room is made available for students and parents to observe the children and the services allocated to them.
During counseling, Arora said families are typically open-minded when it comes to different recommended resources, strategies and facilitation in language development, as well as social and emotional support.
“Most families I work with, it’s their first interaction with a deaf child,” Arora said. “I try to make them feel more confident in their decision making.”
Aside from counseling aspects, the classrooms are catered towards the needs of individual children to help them grow to be more confident in their abilities.
“We work on language development, speech development, auditory development, early literacy, socialization and motor skills,” Oetting said. “We use visual, tactile and kinesthetic strategies combined with a variety of communication modalities, modern assistive listening devices and other technology to provide these special learners with the environment they need to learn to the best of their ability.”
Oetting says the schedule is relatively similar to a non-specialized preschool day. It consists of circle time, story time, snacks, lessons and free play.
“The difference really is in the strategies and techniques that we use and how they are facilitated,” Oetting said. “For example, during a typical calendar lesson, you might see the teacher communicate one sentence in three different ways, including spoken English and then repeating the sentence in different forms of sign language.”
When it comes to auditory skills, a teacher will commonly use a speech hoop, which masks visual information like lip reading and facial expressions.
“This way the learner can only rely on their ability to use their hearing aids, cochlear implant devices and/or an FM System to retrieve that information,” Oetting said.
However, the initial process to obtain a hearing device is long, tedious and doesn’t automatically pose a solution.
“Once (children) are diagnosed with a hearing loss and then fit with the most appropriate amplification and assistive listening devices, they can begin to have access to their auditory surroundings,” Oetting said. “Although newborn hearing screenings have helped tremendously in diagnosing hearing loss as early as possible, there are still children that do not get that diagnosis until the age of 2 or 3. Either way, having the equipment to help them hear is not enough, they then have to be taught what they are hearing.”
According to Oetting, an example of this is when a child hears a vacuum but is unable to recognize it as a vacuum.
To keep students engaged in learning, a wide array of techniques is often utilized.
“We are usually working with learners who have an extremely low vocabulary base,” Oetting said. “I tell my teacher preparatory students that they must have a variety of visuals in their lesson including photographs, video clips, toy objects, real objects and experiential learning to get across something as simple as the difference between an apple and an orange or the difference between walking and running.”
According to Oetting and Arora, children in the program have an immeasurable amount of potential and deserve to be taught in a way that helps them grow in their abilities, bringing about a brighter future as a result.
“These children have the same capabilities as any other child and deserve the chance to learn and become an adult that benefits society,” Oetting said.