IM this article to a friend!

April 25, 2005

Preschool for hearing impaired turns 35

From: Mobile Register - Mobile,AL,USA - Apr 25, 2005

Staff Reporter

When Phyllis Feibelman was told her 10-month-old son was deaf, she wasn't prepared for the news that came next.

"She (the audiologist) said he would need to go away to school and that I should go home and register him that day at the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis," recalled Feibelman of that day in the early 1960s. "I'm sitting there with this 10-month-old and she's telling me to go home and make plans to send my baby away."

At the time there was no school for the deaf in Mobile.

Feibelman and her husband refused to put their son in a residential school away from Mobile.

So they got together with other parents of deaf children and formed the Azalea District Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. With the help of the Junior League of Mobile and the Rotary Rehabilitation Hospital, which donated space, a school was started in 1966 for hearing impaired children.

In 1970, the name changed and it became the Mobile Preschool for the Deaf Inc. Today, it's known as the Preschool Center for the Sensory Impaired.

On Sunday, the school will celebrate its 35th anniversary at the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind on Government Street. School officials are inviting all former and current students, parents, teachers, staff, volunteers and board members to attend.

"It was a good place to start my education," Sam Feibelman said in an e-mail.

He was among the first students to attend the school.

"I believe we only had one classroom and there were just a few of us," he said. "I still keep in touch with some of them today."

Feibelman recalled that he called his teacher, Janet Horton, "Hort."

"I believe the reason for that is because I could not pronounce her name but it does not matter," he said.

Feibelman said by the time he was 10, he went to the St. Louis, Mo., boarding school for children with hearing impairments.

"I'm glad I did not have to go away to school at first because I would not have had a family life like everybody else," said the 41-year-old Feibelman, who graduated from McGill-Toolen High School in 1982 and Spring Hill College in 1987. He now works for his family business, Engineer Textile Products.

"We just figured it was an answer to prayers," Phyllis Feibelman said of the preschool.

Christine Whiteley had the same feelings as Phyllis Feibelman in 1968 when she was told her 20-month-old son was deaf.

Her son's deafness, she said, was caused by medication he had been given for spinal meningitis.

"The first thing they told us was that we needed to pack a bag and prepare to live away from home," Whiteley said. "We said, 'No. Our son's not going to leave home.'"

By then, the preschool was up and running.

Whiteley said she'll never forget meeting Horton, the school's teacher, who has since died.

"She was the first person to introduce us to sign language and to let us know our son was going to be OK and that we would survive it," she said.

She still gets emotional when talking about that day in 1968.

"She took Brian up to the window and started telling him all about the butterfly in sign language," said Whiteley, crying. "That was something you have in your memory and will never forget."

Whiteley said her son "received wonderful schooling there" that she wished could have continued, but he eventually went to public school.

Whiteley said her son graduated from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, N.Y., and later from Gallaudet University, a school for deaf and hearing students in Washington, D.C. He works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Memphis, Tenn.

"We knew nothing about deafness," said Whiteley, who is now an interpreter for the deaf. "I shudder to think what we would have done if we had not had that preschool."

She said the school did more than just educate the children.

"They educated us too," Whiteley said.


WHAT: Mobile Preschool Center for the Sensory Impaired 35th anniversary

WHEN: 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: 1050 Government St. in the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind building

INFO: 433-1234

© 2005 Mobile Register. All rights reserved.