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December 19, 2004

Clarke co-principals really enjoy students

From: The Republican, MA - Dec 19, 2004

Sunday, December 19, 2004

NORTHAMPTON - Julia "Judy" A. Sheldon came to Clarke School for the Deaf to be a house parent because it offered a way to earn some money before she went to law school.

Michael F. O'Connell came to Clarke with his wife, Joanne, because it offered him a way to earn money and gave the couple a place to live while Joanne O'Connell went to school at the University of Massachusetts.

But what started as a practical way to earn money turned into a longtime career for all. Sheldon, in her 32nd year at Clarke, and Michael O'Connell, in his 31st year at Clarke, started this fall as co-principals of the school. (Joanne O'Connell now runs the evaluation program at the school.)

"I just fell in love with the school. It's really a special place to be," Sheldon said.

Sheldon was inspired by teacher Muriel Crockett, now retired, who encouraged her to go beyond her work with students in the dormitory.

"She (Crockett) was the best teacher I've known in my whole life," Sheldon said.

O'Connell had a business degree from UMass and had done substitute teaching when he arrived at Clarke. He was inspired by teacher Louis Kindervater, who has since moved to another school.

After their experiences as house parents, both Sheldon and O'Connell enrolled in the Smith College program for a master's of education that is done at Clarke School. They both were offered jobs as teachers at Clarke when they graduated.

The two say they love being at Clarke because of the close relationship between faculty and students as well as being able to see the remarkable success of students. They both served as supervising teachers before becoming co-principals when director Pamela Paskowitz left in June.

"It's a rewarding experience. You feel a sense of accomplishment to be a part of the miraculous process," O'Connell said.

"You see results. Our kids succeed. Our goal is for them to be able to function independently in the hearing world and to be able to advocate for themselves," Sheldon said.

At Clarke, students who are deaf or hard of hearing are taught to use the residual hearing they have, assisted by digital hearing aides and cochlear implants, to learn to listen and speak orally with the rest of the world.

Clarke's Northampton campus has 61 kindergarten to eighth-graders, as well as pre-school students.

Both Sheldon and O'Connell have lived on campus since they started work at Clarke. Besides being on call and available nights and weekends, they regularly serve lunch to students and sit with them to eat.

© 2004 The Republican.