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November 21, 2004

This class assistant enjoys a noisy classroom

From: - Nov 21, 2004

Bucks County Courier Times

Hatboro-Horsham Schools - Behind the pack of excited kids rocking back and forth, waving hands in the air, trying not to explode aloud with answers to the teacher's questions, classroom assistant Patti Bonn is hard at work.

Wearing a festive Thanksgiving Day vest, she helps keep children on the right page of their coloring flip-books, straighten their construction-paper Indian headdress or fix necklaces during the holiday feast and powwow.

Some might take for granted hearing the children's gasps of excitement, giggles and shouted answers, but not Bonn.

Two years after receiving cochlear implants to improve her hearing, one would be hard-pressed to find a more thankful person.

"I have my associate's degree in early childhood education, so I'm doing what I love to do, working with children," says Bonn, a 41-year-old Horsham resident.

Born with poor vision and profound hearing loss, she worked hard from Hallowell Elementary School to Hatboro-Horsham High Senior School to Montgomery County Community College. Then, her goal of becoming a professional schoolteacher hit a snag.

"I tried to go on for my bachelor's ... but they wouldn't let me student teach because I wouldn't be able to hear everything," Bonn says. "I worked my butt off and was denied. That was a hard time in my life. I had to give up my dream."

She worked at a preschool, then in the Willow Grove Naval Air Station's library for about five years.

When placed on disability eight years ago, she hated staying home. So she began volunteering three full days a week at Hallowell and was assigned to Marie Kaufell's kindergarten class. She communicated with children by reading their lips.

One morning in 2002, Bonn awoke with most of her hearing gone. She became a candidate for cochlear implants, which bypass a segment of the ear's malfunctioning machinery and replace it with an electrical substitute.

She had the implant surgery, similar to the one talk radio host Rush Limbaugh had when he lost his hearing a few years ago, that November at Temple University Hospital. She had them connected in January 2003 and returned to Hallowell a few months later.

"It was amazing just to hear the children's voices and the different sounds," she said. "... This is the best hearing I've had in my whole life."

She is still training her ears to recognize different noises, like ticking clocks and more.

"I couldn't believe paper made noise," she said, breaking out into jubilant laughter. "Paper makes noise, you know? I couldn't believe it."

Another thing she hadn't heard clearly was a fire alarm.

"I knew [a fire drill] was coming, I heard a bell, and I didn't realize it was the janitor's service bell. I took the class outside," she says, still laughing. "They haven't let me forget that one."

Bonn says interacting with students is easier now. And, in the hallways, she gets to hear hellos from five grades of children. She does anything asked of her, whether it's working with children one-on-one, reading during circle time, or stuffing folders with homework papers.

"We're very compatible and work well together," Kaufell said. "She knows the classroom so well that she can find things I can't. Patti is very loving and nurturing, and the kids love her."

Principal Diane Cohle said Bonn has been such a steady volunteer that she's just like one of Hallowell's staff members. She gets along with everyone, even attending their social functions.

Since the implants, Cohle said, "It's been really thrilling because Patti has just been so excited, full of energy, and she's just such a cheerful person to begin with. It was really great to have her come in and talk about it and be here to watch her go through the process."

Bonn said she feels fulfilled as a classroom assistant.

"In a way, I had to show myself that I could do it," she said. "... Most of all, I'm just really happy they let me come so much because I enjoy it."

Paul Ruppel can be reached at 215-957-8168 or

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