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June 17, 2004

Berard: Helping improve language skills

From: Monticello Times - Monticello,MN,USA - Jun 17, 2004

by Derek Sullivan

Susan Berard works with students so they can enjoy the sounds of school.

Berard entered the teaching profession in 1975 as a speech clinician. She worked with hearing-impaired children in Big Lake and in Manchester, N.H., before arriving in Monticello in 1981.

Berard has worked with children from birth to 12th grade, helping improve their language skills. For the past five years, she has served as a resource teacher at Pinewood Elementary.

Berard said a hearing-impaired child needs more than a hearing aid to feel comfortable.

"The main problem with deafness is not being able to hear, it is being able to understand language," Berard said.

"So at every level, you are constantly trying to broaden their language skills and broaden their understanding of language."

The Atwater native helps children keep up with the ever-changing language patterns of their schoolmates.

"We spend a lot of time talking through (new words and phrases)," Berard said. "We try to make their language continue to grow so they can stay connected."

A 1966 Alexandria High School graduate, Berard took an interest in helping hearing-impaired children as a teenager. Berard always knew she wanted to go into teaching, and a summer job identified the field.

"I started working at Camp Courage as a speech clinician in Maple Lake," Berard said. "That is when I became interested in deafness."

One major innovation that the long-time teacher has seen in hearing technology is development of the Cochlear implant. The implant requires a surgical procedure to thread a wire through the inner ear and connect with an external device to stimulate hearing. The implants were first used on adults in the 1970s and can now be used on toddlers.

"The biggest change in progress in the past four years is the use of cochlear implants in children," Berard said. "Now children with cochlear implants have lots of hearing capability at a very young age."

In the past, hearing-impaired children would fall behind during the critical early years of language development. The implants let kids with hearing loss develop language skills at a normal rate.

"The implants allow them to keep up with regular-hearing kids in language development," Berard said.

The mother of three works with families after they notice their child is struggling to hear.

"I work with the program of early intervention," Berard said. "As soon as infants are identified, I start work with the families and going into their homes."

Berard was thrilled to win the award, but was not completely surprised.

"Someone sort of leaked (news of the honor) and made me promise I would not tell anyone," Berard admitted. "But then they back-tracked so I was not exactly sure."

Berard received the award from fellow co-workers Sheri Vensland and Mary Heintz, who described how much Berard loves to entertain her students.

One year, Berard brought a clown suit to her pre-school class and put the make-up on in front of the young children.

"Some little children are frightened of clowns, so I have this friend who does clown birthday parties and she let me borrow her kit," Berard said. "I would go in and transform into a clown."

During summer school, Berard decided she would bring the world to her five-year-old students.

"We built a cardboard airplane, handed out passports and cameras," Berard said. "We traveled to Japan, Africa and Scotland. We made our summer vacation book and even sent out homemade postcards they could mail to their families."

While Berard taught her students many lessons, she learned a lot from her them, as well.

"I have learned patience, and to have fun," Berard said.

"All the things that we do are always building language, and the goal for (the students) is to go home and talk about it because they are excited."

© 2004 Monticello Times