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January 20, 2006

Clarke School takes listening to a new level

From: Canton Journal, MA - Jan 20, 2006

By Brian Cook/ Correspondent
Friday, January 20, 2006

The children who attend Clarke School East off Rte. 138 in Canton act and sound like a normal bunch of pre-school children. So it is startling to discover that the children are a bit different. For example, they wear single earphone like devices, called cochlear implants, because they are hearing impaired.

Touring the Whitman Road facility (off Rte. 138) with Ruth Crocker, who is the regional development officer for the Clarke School organization, a visitor is immediately aware that the school hums with lively kids enjoying the typical activities associated with pre-school.

Thanks to the efforts of Cara Jordan, director of the school, Clarke School East became the first satellite school for the Northampton, Mass.-based Clarke School for the Deaf organization six years ago.

Jordan used to serve deaf children literally out of her car.

"I would visit families in their homes and at various other centers until we found there were enough interested parties to start a school," she said.

The program is early intervention based and is supported by local school funding. The children who attend the Canton facility come from a variety of towns, including Canton.

Owen Muzrim, 3 1/2, is almost a lifelong member of Clarke East. His mom and dad, Michele and Ted, brought Owen to the school when he was five months old.

After Owen was born, the Muzrims visited various schools, including those that teach sign language, but was drew them to Clarke was the Parent & Infant program offered.

Today, Michele Muzrim said her 3 1/2-year-old son is a vibrant participant in all school activities.

"(Owen) loves it here and so do we," his mother said.

The Canton school has around 35 students and is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

"In the afternoons, we have a toddler program and are able to talk to parents and explain the programs that operate here and that helps to smooth the way for them," Jordan said.

The improvements in treating hearing impaired children are obvious in the number of children that use cochlear implants, reports Jordan.

"When I first started this school, there were very few children using them," she said. "But now, as you can see, many children have them."

At 12 months old, Owen was fitted with the cochlear implant.

"What Clarke East (and cochlear implants) have done is make it so that Owen will be able to go to regular kindergarten school," his mother said.

In fact the trend towards employing cochlear implants has changed much in recent years, according to Jordan.

"Children are now getting them at a much younger age (around two years) and that helps immensely with their ability to learn language," she said.

Around the country, some 10,000 children wear cochlear implants, as do 13,000 adults.

According to the National Institute for Deafness and Other Communications Disorders (see sidebar), an implant does not restore or create normal hearing. Instead, under the appropriate conditions, it can give a deaf person a useful auditory understanding of the environment and help him or her to understand speech.

As well as cochlear implants, Clarke East boasts other hearing technology. Teachers use a microphone based amplification system that has speakers conveniently inserted in the ceilings.

The teachers wear a microphone headset, similar to those used by telemarketers, for example, that helps "project" the sound to students.

One of the aspects of the school that Crocker, who joined the organization last October, emphasizes is its connection to the community.

"We try to encourage community involvement," she said. So, for example, just before Christmas the children made dog biscuits and a small group brought them to a dog shelter in Brockton.

The Clarke School organization has expanded beyond its Northampton and Canton roots in recent years and now serves some 500 children who attend similar schools in New York, Philadelphia and Jacksonville, Fla.

© Copyright by Community Newspaper Co. and Herald Media.