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August 29, 2004

Oral deaf school outgrows its home

From: Cincinnati Enquirer, OH - Aug 29, 2004

Ohio Valley Voices: New location sought

By Sheila McLaughlin
Enquirer staff writer

MONTGOMERY - Maria Sentelik rounds the back corner of the small ranch off Zig Zag Road that doubles as a school, thinking out loud before stepping inside.

"What kind of trouble could possibly be caused by a bunch of deaf babies who leave at noon?"

It's a question that's been eating at her lately.

For two years, Sentelik, the executive director of Ohio Valley Voices, has scouted out land for a new place to accommodate the growing number of students at the oral school for the deaf. It hasn't been easy.

Just last week, she successfully argued for a one-year reprieve so the school could continue operating out of the basement of Montgomery Presbyterian Church, as well as a trailer and house next door, where the school branched out. It opened in 2000 with a dozen students and now has 32 students, nine of them age 3 or younger.

A small group of neighbors complained about trash on the church lot and groups of teens congregating at night behind the trailer, things that Montgomery city officials decided were beyond the school's control.

Sycamore Township officials this month rejected her request to build a 19,000-square-foot school for 50 kids on Plainfield Road, after neighbors objected. They said the $2.5 million project would be too big, too close and would generate too much traffic.

"It's a great school, but the wrong location," said Sycamore zoning administrator Greg Bickford

Now, Sentelik is eyeing property off Branch Hill-Guinea Pike on three acres near Arrowhead Apartments in Clermont County's Miami Township. She's keeping her fingers crossed that things will work out this time, even going door-to-door trying to sell her idea to the potential neighbors. She tells them:

"Most schools in that area are 72,000 square feet with 500 children in them. We are building a 19,000-square-foot building with 50 children in it. It's four times smaller."

Meanwhile, children are being turned away at Ohio Valley Voices, she said.

The beginning

Ohio Valley Voices started with a few parents who wanted their deaf children to speak. They sought out the Moog Center for Deaf Education in St. Louis and garnered enough interest locally to open a school here.

Since then, attendance has nearly tripled, staff has doubled and classes have expanded.

Among students at Ohio Valley Voices are kids with cochlear implants. The electronic device, surgically implanted under the skin behind one ear, sends sound impulses to the brain.

The thought is that by kindergarten age, or maybe second grade, these kids will be able to speak and read so they can mainstream into traditional schools.

School day

Last week, after the tears and excitement of the first day back to school subsided, the preschoolers got down to business.

They broke into groups of two or four in different rooms. They counted aloud, repeated the months of the year, learned new vocabulary words and followed their teacher's instruction to use them in full sentences.

"Even snack time is all about talking," Sentelik said.

The classrooms are full of success stories. One boy recently entered the first grade reading at a third-grade level, Sentelik said.

Louisa Peet, 5, of Goshen Township, will leave Ohio Valley Voices next year for kindergarten, where she will join her hearing identical twin at a Montessori school near Loveland. This is Louisa's third year at the oral deaf school.

"This has been the most wonderful place to send my daughter," said her dad, Kelly. "She went from deaf to indistinguishable. If you didn't see the device, you wouldn't know."

Clermont County is farther than Sentelik would like the school to be. It needs to be convenient to parents who drive their kids from as far away as Wilmington and Indiana, she said.

But other options fell through, and buildings in a better location were too costly. The school has $700,000 to get the building started, as well as a matching grant from a non-profit St. Louis organization that helps open oral schools for the deaf.

Ohio Valley Voices at a glance

What: A school that teaches deaf children and those with severe hearing loss, from 18 months old through second grade, to speak so they can be mainstreamed into traditional schools.

Where: 9994 Zig Zag Road, Montgomery.

History: Founded by local parents, the school opened in July 2000. It is associated with Moog Center for Deaf Education in St. Louis and funded through tuition, grants, fund-raisers and private donations.

Information: 791-1458 or

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