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July 31, 2004

Signed on to learn early

From: Press-Enterprise, CA - Jul 31, 2004

SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF: The Riverside district will help with the Parent Infant Program.

By MARIA T. GARCIA / The Press-Enteprise

Little Lilliana Cordova taps her thumb to her forehead several times, calling out "Daddy, daddy" in American Sign Language.

Sitting nearby, her father, Frank Cordova, beams with delight, reveling in the moment.

Lilliana, who was born nearly deaf, is learning to communicate in sign language, and her parents, who can hear, hope to learn right along with their 16-month-old.

The Cordovas, of Riverside, will be among the first families to participate in a new Parent Infant Program slated to start this fall at the California School for the Deaf, Riverside.

The program, which is being run in cooperation with the Riverside Unified School District, will focus on helping deaf infants develop communication skills and on providing resources, such as sign-language classes, for their families.

School and district officials decided to start the program after seeing an increase in the number of deaf babies. Until recently, Riverside Unified served just a few deaf infants each year. But as more young, deaf couples take jobs at the school, the number of infants who have hearing loss also has increased.

Others, such as Frank and Stephanie Cordova, didn't have a history of hearing loss in their family. But they're quickly learning about the disability. They're grateful for a program where they can meet other parents with deaf children and where Lilliana can learn communication skills that will give her a head start in her education.

"I don't want her to depend on others to take care of her," Stephanie Cordova, 27, said about her daughter. "I want her to be able to communicate and talk with people."

Early intervention crucial

Early intervention is vital for deaf children's long-term academic success, said Janice Smith Warshaw, principal for early childhood at the state-run school. Without communication skills, deaf or hard-of-hearing youngsters arrive in the classroom without social skills and may hit or kick just to get attention, Smith Warshaw said through an interpreter.

"It's like not talking to a hearing child at all until they're 3," Smith Warshaw said. "The key is for the child to have language exposure at the earliest moments."

Deaf children who are not exposed to language until later in life are likely to experience reading and writing problems, said Tom Jones, a professor at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., who specializes in deaf education.

"Early intervention really makes a big difference in a child's life," Jones said by phone. Preschool format

The California School for the Deaf, Riverside, is one of two state-run schools for the deaf. The Riverside campus serves through early adulthood roughly 500 residential and commuter students from Southern California.

The new Parent Infant Program, which was patterned after a decade-old one at the deaf school's sister campus in Fremont, will resemble a preschool - where infants and children up to age 3 will learn through play, said coordinator and teacher Janelle Green. Once they turn 3, children can begin attending preschool at the residential campus.

Until now, Riverside Unified was responsible for providing education services for deaf infants and their parents, said Steven Morford, the school district's director of special education. The services were provided once a week at the child's home, he said.

But in the last year, Riverside Unified has seen the number of deaf infants jump from a couple to about a dozen, enough to warrant a small program, Morford said. As the numbers grew, parents asked for a more comprehensive program.

The Parent Infant Program will run Monday through Thursday for three hours each day and will be staffed by School for the Deaf employees with some oversight from Riverside Unified.

"We welcome the support and assistance of CSDR in providing enriched services to infants," Morford said by phone. "This will clearly be a more intensive program than what we've been able to offer in the past."

One-stop center

For parents such as the Cordovas, that means the School for the Deaf will become a one-stop center where they can get information on everything from sign-language classes to family support while the children participate in activities such as arts and crafts.

Frank and Stephanie Cordova hope the program will supplement what they're teaching Lilliana at home.

They use every chance they get to teach Lilliana sign language. They read books to her by signing the words instead of saying them aloud.

Frank Cordova marvels at the signs his daughter already knows, such as milk, mommy and daddy. Their home is decorated with posters of the alphabet in sign language and Lilliana plays with colorful flashcards with pictures of words and their sign-language equivalent.

"We want her to get a head start on her education," Stephanie Cordova said as she held her energetic baby girl. "And we want to learn about all that we can do for her."

Reach Maria T. Garcia at (951) 368-9455 or


For more information on the Parent Infant Program, call the Riverside Unified School District at (951) 276-2030 or the California School for the Deaf, Riverside at (951) 782-6502.

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