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June 17, 2006

Elementary school receives national award

From: Tampa Bay Newspapers, FL - Jun 1, 2006


PINELLAS PARK – Cross Bayou Elementary School, a 600-student institution at 6886 102nd Ave., offers progressive help for deaf and blind pupils.

And it was just named one of 10 American schools to win the National Schools of Character Award from the Character Education Partnership.

“We are so very proud of that achievement,” said Principal Marcia Stone. “We believe it’s the most awesome thing that has ever happened to us.”

About 80 students are impaired. They receive the same education as others thanks to a dedicated staff of professionals like Cindy Hebbeler, a former New York state teacher of the year and runner-up for National teacher of the year and finalist for Pinellas County teacher of the year.

Karen Arndt, a teacher’s assistant, teams with instructors who work with the disabled children.

Both Arndt and Hebbeler are deaf. Each have cochlear implants imbedded behind an ear.

Although the Pinellas County school system provides assistance for the disabled at all institutions, many go to Cross Bayou because of the advanced facilities staffed by speech therapists, audiologists and other professionals.

“Our students come from as far away as Tarpon Springs,” Stone said.

Most people don’t realize the difficulties of teaching deaf children. After the cochlear implant they must learn to recognize sounds they never before heard. Reverberations such as running water, auto horns, thunder and even music can be frightening after living in a world of total silence.

Children and parents are taught to communicate in sign language, an extremely complicated language. The impaired children must also learn to read lips.

“There is basic sign language, but we teach how to hold actual conversations,” Stone said.

Some normal children are born to deaf parents and become their eyes and ears. Others are born deaf or lose their hearing due to illness.

Some medications damage or destroy optical nerves or cause hearing loss.

One young girl lost her abilities after an organ transplant that eventually caused her death.

Cross Bayou graduates go on to Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School and then Pinellas Park High, which offer advanced help for the impaired.

Stone uses sign language, though she admits to not being as proficient as she’d like to be. Her husband, Ron, is associate superintendent for human resources and public affairs for the county school system. She is a full-blooded Cherokee/Choctaw Indian who was born and raised in Oklahoma.

“My great-great-uncle was Will Rogers,” she said. “My ancestors in the late 1800s walked the Trail of Tears from North Carolina to Oklahoma after the U.S. government took their land.”

A veteran educator who came to Cross Bayou about nine years ago, she is proud of her staff and the programs for the impaired.

“Volunteer readers create talking text and other books here,” Stone said. “There are many other outstanding programs that the public knows little or nothing about.”

© 2006 Tampa Bay Newspapers