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January 24, 2004

Teacher aims to help deaf/hard-of-hearing

From: Mankato Free Press - Jan 24, 2004

Ann Vaubel will spend six weeks in Philadelphia learning about ear device

By Bob Fenske Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — Ann Vaubel looked at all the particulars and could only come to one conclusion: She had to get to Philadelphia.

And that's exactly where the Mankato Area Public Schools deaf/hard-of-hearing teacher is these days, learning about cochlear implants and how to teach students with the hearing-giving devices.

"I'm at the age where I can actually do something like this," Vaubel said with a laugh. "Our kids are in college, the district has been very supportive, and it's going to make me a better teacher. At least, that's my hope."

Vaubel's caseload in the special education department includes students ranging from babies to sixth-graders. Most of her students are classified as hard of hearing, but she does have students with cochlear implants, devices that produce hearing sensations by electrically stimulating inner ear nerves.

Working with students with cochlear implants is vastly different than working with students without the implants or who are hard of hearing.

"I have this little 9-month-old baby now, and I think that was part of the trigger: I really want to do right by this child," Vaubel said. "And then I heard about this program and I thought, 'I have to at least try.'"

Getting into the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia program, however, was no easy feat. First, it's a competitive program that offers workshops to eight teachers twice a year. Second, it meant Vaubel would miss six weeks of the school year.

"Finding people in Ann's discipline isn't always easy," said John Klaber, Mankato's director of special education, "but when Ann came to us with this, we really felt like with cochlears being the wave of the future, we could get ahead of the curve."

So Vaubel took a six-week leave, the district found replacements and the teacher left for Philadelphia Monday, the day after the city's football team lost in its bid for a Super Bowl berth.

"Obviously, it's not a junket," Klaber joked. "Seriously, one of the things I wrote in Ann's recommendation letter is that when we have an opportunity like this, we look at it as a regional type of thing. She'll be a great resource for her students, our district and south-central and southwestern Minnesota."

Vaubel, meanwhile, is looking forward to working with other teachers in the program. They include instructors from Alaska, Oklahoma, Oregon and New Jersey.

"Just to have that time to bounce ideas off of each other is really priceless," she said. "What works, what didn't work, why didn't it work, how can it work ... I mean that alone would make this worth it."

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