IM this article to a friend!

February 2, 2003

St. Joseph helps give deaf children 'a voice'

From: St. Louis Dispatch, MO - 02 Feb 2003

By Jessica Sindel
Of the Suburban Journal
Chesterfield Journal
02/02/2003 06:00 AM

The motto at St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf is "giving deaf children a voice."

Staff members accomplish this goal year after year by helping children born with little or no hearing learn how to speak and how to hear through the aid of technology and intensive therapy.

The result is that after these children spend a few years studying at St. Joseph, they are able to enter mainstream schools and participate in classes like any other student.

"We teach these children how to speak and hear through intensive speech, language and auditory therapy," said Mary Gannon, principal at St. Joseph, 1809 Clarkson Road in Chesterfield. "But our curriculum is just like that of any mainstream school.

"We have programs that begin at birth and continue until the eighth grade, though most of our students only need to spend a few years with us before they are ready to move on," she said.

Every day, the 100 students enrolled at the school work with teachers and therapists to improve the students' language skills. With the help of hearing aids and cochlear implants, students are able to achieve a normal range of hearing.

The challenge, then, is to help children learn how to interpret the foreign sounds that surround them after the technology is put into place.

"Deaf children need more explanation and definition than your average hearing child," Gannon said. "Growing up, a hearing child might learn five different ways of saying 'trash can' just by listening to their family talk. Deaf children don't have that experience, so it's our job to fill in those vocabulary gaps."

Every class at the school, whether it's art, music or another subject, is heavily focused on language and vocabulary study, said Gannon, who started at St. Joseph 10 years ago as a kindergarten teacher.

"When an art teacher is teaching a class, they will consistently and continually use the names of the tools and materials to get those words into the children's heads," Gannon said. "The kids need more exposure to the vocabulary in order to really understand what the tools do, as well."

Other important lessons students learn are to start, and stop, conversations, Gannon said.

"We teach them certain kinds of speech patterns and verbal sounds, so they know that certain words are an invitation to converse," Gannon said.

St. Joseph's emphasis on oral communication means no sign language is used at the school. Although a number of students enter St. Joseph with some knowledge of sign language, the teachers insist on verbal communication alone.

"Sometimes these children are the only deaf child in their entire community," Gannon said. "For some, coming to St. Joseph is their first real taste of success after spending years sitting in class, unable to understand what was going on around them.

"We want these children to be able to participate in mainstream schools, society and the work world," Gannon said. "And in order to do that, they have to be effective oral communicators.

"That's our goal — to give these children the skills, tools and knowledge to become an active part of society."

© 2003 St. Louis Dispatch