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August 15, 2004

Center prepares deaf students for school

From: Kansas City Star, MO - Aug 15, 2004

Columbia Daily Tribune

COLUMBIA — The morning routine in Charlotte Brumfield's classroom is similar to that at any small, private school. Children file in, the teacher says good morning and they recite the pledge.

One difference is the very first activity: Before they get started, Brumfield takes out a small stethoscope to make sure student hearing aids are working; older students check their own hearing-aid batteries. Brumfield checks her microphone, one that has a direct connection to one student's hearing aid.

Then the lessons begin. Who can recite the months of the year?

"January, February, March," three girls and one boy recite. It's a bit reminiscent of a foreign language class — an animated, expressive teacher pulling each student into conversation. Often, students answer back in complete sentences.

"Who knows some short-i words?" asks Brumfield.

Pig, stick, tick.

"I got a tick after going into the woods," says one little girl.

"Like when you get arrested, you get a tick!" says 7-year-old Branden Jones.

"What do you get?" asks Brumfield.

Branden has seen police officers hand tickets to speeders, but he apparently never heard the "et" on the end of the word.

"You get a ticket," says Brumfield.

"You get a ticket," repeats Branden.

The mission for the 3-year-old Moog Center for Deaf Education in Mid-Missouri is to move deaf or hard-of-hearing children into public school, keeping them out of schools for deaf children.

The Moog Center uses an "auditory/aural" approach to teaching and a Moog curriculum developed by Jean Moog of St. Louis. The approach teaches children to listen carefully, interpret the sounds they hear and talk. Moog students do not use sign language, unlike "total communication," which teaches signing and speaking.

Though hearing aids or cochlear implants give children access to sound, they won't give children perfect hearing. Some have said hearing through an aid or an implant sounds "robotic."

Lessons at Moog are heavy on vocabulary. When the word "sponge" sounds like "bun," learning to sound out words phonetically and comprehending what they mean can be challenging.

When Branden was born, his initial hearing screening indicated a problem, but doctors thought he had enough hearing to develop normal speech, recalled his mother, Angela Freeman of Sturgeon, Mo.

But when he was 3, he had only about a four-word vocabulary. "I was so frustrated," said Freeman. "I kept telling doctors I didn't think he could hear, but I guess they couldn't determine it."

He was fitted for hearing aids when he was 3 years, 7 months old, but he hated them. As soon as he got home from preschool, where his teachers insisted he wear them, he took them out.

Other students, such as Catherine Dampf, were able to get help earlier, because they were diagnosed earlier. Catherine received a cochlear implant when she was about a year old. She and her family started in a total communications program and began learning sign language before they arrived at Moog.

"When Catherine figured out that she could talk and get what she wanted, she found no more use for sign," said her mother, Michelle Dampf, a speech language pathologist who also worked at Moog this summer. "That made our decision. Everyone in her family was willing to learn sign, but when she dropped it and looked at us funny, we dropped it."

Branden's family went to the Moog Center about three months after he got his hearing aids. Moog does not conduct hearing tests but helps parents understand test results from professional testing centers.

"It wasn't until he started going to Moog and seeing other children going through the same thing he was going through that he got used to his hearing aids," said Freeman. "Now he's lost without them."

The school works with families, too, teaching them techniques that would help children acquire language skills as quickly as possible. Branden's parents realized they often were giving him things they thought he needed before he asked. It was a habit they had to break.

Branden completed a kindergarten program at Moog before entering kindergarten in Sturgeon. One of the ways Moog readies children for mainstreaming is to teach them to read before they enter public-school kindergarten.

With so many other issues to deal with when they start school, it is important that students feel confident in their academic abilities, said director Judy Harper.

"We mainstream our students when they are ready to compete with their peers academically and socially," said Harper. "We continue to support our students as they mainstream into their neighborhood schools with teacher support, tutoring and speech therapy as needed."

Dampf is confident 4-year-old Catherine will be ready to enter public school in Jefferson City. Right now, she is learning to read and spell.

"She's further ahead at her age level than my 6-year-old was when he was 4, and he's very smart," Dampf said.

Parents of hard-of-hearing children might ask their regular schools for minor modifications, such as placement of the child in a carpeted classroom — the movement of chairs on a hard floor can create irritating noise. Children might also get speech therapy and guidance in learning how to speak up when they haven't understood something.

© 2004 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.