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April 14, 2006

St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf has firm grounding in Catholic tradition

From: St.Louis Review - St.Louis,Missouri,USA - Apr 14, 2006

by Joseph Kenny, Review Staff Writer

The kindergartners were a little antsy but were eager to please their teacher.

Incorporating a lesson about fruits and vegetables while teaching speech and language skills, Melissa Lund held up the picture and asked, "What is this one?" "Orange" a boy quickly answered.

"Is this a fruit or vegetable?" the resource teacher asked next.

A student raised his hand. His reply: "Fruit."

"Good job," was the teacher’s response.

Later the students learned the difference between two similar items — tomatoes and apples — and which ones go "splat" when dropped.

In many ways, St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf is just like any school in the archdiocese. It is a mix of old-fashioned and high-tech methods. An English class discusses "Charlotte’s Web," a science class conducts experiments measuring friction and a math class gets tips on division.

The school is old-style in its caring, patient approach to education and high-tech in its mastery of the latest in hearing devices. St. Joseph has a state-of-the-art audiology department.

Children develop oral language and speech without the use of sign language. It is one of only two auditory-oral schools in the nation offering a residential component and serves children from across the country and around the world preschool through eighth grade.

The school is dedicated to its mission as a Catholic ministry reaching out to those in need in the tradition of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

Stephen Marsh, an All Saints in University City parishioner and a member of the board of St. Joseph, said it is important to him that it is a Catholic-sponsored organization.

"It satisfies the mission of the sisters and the Church, and it’s a first-class organization," said Marsh, president of Enterprise Bank and Trust in Clayton. "Everyone would acknowledge that regardless of their religious background, the kids are going to get a good education. It speaks well of the Catholic community that we’re willing to support a school of this quality."

The school is slated to receive a $10,000 grant from the 2006 Annual Catholic Appeal that will be conducted in parishes of the archdiocese April 23-May 7.

Archbishop Raymond Burke has called St. Joseph a gem in the community.

St. Joseph Institute began in 1837 when two Sisters of St. Joseph came to St. Louis from France to teach deaf children at the request of Bishop Joseph Rosati. They founded the first school for the deaf west of the Mississippi River in a log cabin. In 1934 they adopted a new teaching method, the oral approach, and became one of the first schools in the world to teach deaf children to talk. Today it is one of only two Catholic auditory-oral schools in the nation.

In 1981 St. Joseph was at the forefront of early intervention therapy when it opened the Molloy Family Center to serve children age birth through 6 years in developing their ability to listen and talk. It now has birth-to-age-6 programs in Kansas City, Kan., Champaign-Urbana, Ill., and Indianapolis. After approval of the cochlear implant for use with children in the 1980s, St. Joseph became the first school to offer an educational program for children using the implant.

St. Joseph has a faculty-student ratio of three to one. Enrichment programs include art, music and physical education. There is an extensive after-school program, a summer camp and mainstream participation in after-school and weekend community sports and recreational programs.

"Not too many institutions have had that kind of longevity," Marsh said of the school’s history.

The school seeks to address the needs of each child, with the goal of successfully mainstreaming all students, allowing parents and children the freedom to choose their educational options.

Rosemarie Hamilton said her 10-year-old daughter Katie, in the third grade at St. Joseph, "has just grown immensely speakingwise and has blossomed as a person as well. It’s been wonderful for us."

Katie is in her third year at the school after the family moved from Las Vegas so she could attend St. Joseph.

The Hamiltons were especially pleased because they are Catholic and are attracted to the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph, dedicated to the spiritual and emotional growth of the children.

"There’s a knack to getting the children to speak. Part of it is helping them feel good about themselves," Rosemarie Hamilton said. "We like the school not only academically but the mission of educating the whole child, helping them grow in all areas of their lives."

Katie was diagnosed when she was about 2 months old as being profoundly deaf. She learned to speak and has hearing aids in both ears, but the Hamiltons were at a crossroad and felt a need to make a move to help improve her speech. They found a home in Wentzville in St. Patrick Parish and Rosemarie’s husband, Matthew, got a job at Monsanto. The couple has another daughter, Elizabeth, 8.

They are hoping eventually to move Katie to a Catholic or public school, whichever she can handle and is best for her.

Last year St. Joseph Institute alum Cami Garland graduated at the top of her class at St. Joseph’s Academy in Frontenac. She is now a student at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

Garland was featured in a United Way campaign 10 years ago and last year was profiled on a campaign that focuses on individuals assisted through United Way-supported agencies, including St. Joseph Institute. Garland and her family credit St. Joseph Institute with her success. As she says in the campaign, "They said I’d never learn to talk. I learned. Now I’m going to Yale."

Lynn Raney, director of fund development at St. Joseph, explained some of the factors that make the school so successful. There’s daily, one-on-one speech, language and audition therapy for each student. Various techniques include role playing and bringing everyday activities into the lessons, she said. "They focus on helping children listen to the sound and not just look at lips," she said.

Noting that many of the teachers have 20 or more years of experience, she said: "Every child’s needs are a little different. It takes a special teacher to reach each one. There’s a lot of hands-on learning, especially in the lower grades."

Deborah Wilson, president of school, said the funds that are contributed to help St. Joseph’s mission are "truly an investment, an actual savings to society for this education and early intervention for children. These children become productive and successful adults."

There are some 150 volunteers who help at St. Joseph. Special events bring in needed money. Grants and individual donations also are important to the operations.

Marsh, the board member, said he was sold on St. Joseph after one look. "It’s hard to take a tour and not see how valuable it is. When you see the kids in this environment, with this quality of teaching, you’re moved to help the school."
© 2006 St.Louis Review