Listen…do you want to know a secret?

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Come along with me on a little visit to a school in Shadyside with a unique mission and a 108 year history.  Let’s start our visit on the lower level of the school.   Listen!  Do you hear that?  It is the sound of children chattering to each other in the lunch room.  What makes that chatter noteworthy, you ask?   Well… these children are deaf, and they are talking and listening to one another.  Let me explain how the marvel of medical intervention has aided our mission at DePaul School for Hearing and Speech, located on Alder Street in the Shadyside area of Pittsburgh.

 

Technological advancements in digital hearing aids and cochlear implants have made it possible for children who are deaf or hard of hearing to hear speech. With access to sound provided by these devices and intensive Listening and Spoken Language education, even children who are profoundly deaf can learn to listen and speak.  Since our inception, long before anyone thought of hearing aids or cochlear implants, the mission of DePaul School for Hearing and Speech has been to teach each child who is deaf or hard of hearing to listen, speak and learn.  Now that medical technology has made it possible to gain access to sound, DePaul School can teach children to listen and talk and learn on par with the language development of typically hearing peers in the preschool years.

 

DePaul is the only school in the western Pennsylvania and tri-state region to provide Listening and Spoken Language education to children ages 18 months to 15 years who are deaf or hard of hearing.  We actually begin teaching families shortly after the birth of their child to promote auditory skill and oral language development, and continue working with families during the critical time in a child’s language development. DePaul provides families with multiple strategies to support and promote their child’s oral language development at home.   Continuing our tour on the first floor of the school, we drop in to see the Toddler Program, which provides a center-based program for children 18 to 36 months.   You will observe a structured learning environment in which students rapidly gain language through experiences and repeated practice. Further on down the hallway, the Preschool Program offers an intensive language acquisition-focused instruction which is vitally important and hugely successful for our students.  Many of the children in the Elementary Program (K-8) have either received a late diagnosis, a progressive hearing loss or have faced other complications which have slowed their language development and vocabulary skill progress necessary to enter the mainstream.  These children will mainstream as soon as they are ready for the mainstream. In fact, our reputation has compelled some families from outside of the Pittsburgh region to relocate to the area to provide the best possible education for their child.

Follow me now as we peer into Miss Amanda’s circle time, where she has six 3 year olds with her today.  You will hear singing of familiar preschool songs.  Again, I want to remind you, these children are deaf.  This learning experience gives them practice using the newly acquired vocabulary they learned in the classroom.  Once children understand that sound has meaning, helping them learn to speak in clear and meaningful context takes very specific instruction and practice.  70% of the children who attend DePaul’s School’s Toddler-Parent and Preschool programs transition to neighborhood schools and are reading at or above grade level.  Once each student masters listening and speaking skills, s/he is ready to enter the educational mainstream with a solid foundation to succeed.

When we stop inside a classroom on the upper level, our students are hearing some exciting changes this school year! With a very generous grant from the DSF Charitable Trust (David Scaife Foundation), DePaul School was able to install the Phonak Roger Digital Modulation (FM) system for students in our Elementary Program. This digital system features a wireless microphone for teachers, and a small discrete Roger receiver that attaches to the child’s hearing aid or cochlear implant. The teacher’s voice is then wirelessly transmitted via a proprietary Bluetooth signal directly to the students’ ears, allowing them to hear their teacher’s voice more clearly. The system also helps to filter out background noise and reduces listening strain while students are learning, helping them to be more focused on their studies.  Each teacher is equipped with a Roger Touchscreen Microphone, which is used in the classroom for direct instruction, classroom instruction, and small group work.  The Multimedia Hub is designed to interface with any audio source to stream the content wirelessly to the student’s Roger receivers. It’s used in the Learning Lab and with classroom Promethium boards, iPads, Android tablets, television, and computers. The sky is really the limit with this new, amazing technology!

Twelve years ago, when DePaul School relocated from Mount Lebanon to Shadyside (into the former Sacred Heart High School building), renovations at that time included installing a state-of-the-art sound field system into every classroom, which included speakers in the ceiling to ensure equal distribution of sound throughout the room. That was before Bluetooth technology.  Just as every other form of technology continues to advance, assistive devices for hearing have made major advances over the past decade.  This is not only an important part of our education and instruction for our students while they are here; it is also necessary preparation for our students’ transition into the mainstream.

Our elementary students are really enjoying the new Roger sound system! After using the Roger Touchscreen for the first time, student Jackson Drake said with a big smile, “Miss Jenn, I hear you in my head.”  While interfacing with computer technology, student Olivia Deardorff-Kushner said, “I like not having wires connected to the computer this year!”

Leo Vollbracht, DePaul School’s Elementary Department Chair, is excited to incorporate this new technology in the upper levels: “The Roger System has made an immediate and overwhelmingly positive impact in our classrooms. Being able to speak directly in each child’s ear has been amazing! Directions are understood, speech correction is immediately integrated into lessons, and lessons in the classroom setting are completed more fluidly than ever before.  The children are excited about the technology as well. They immediately ask to be synced to each teacher’s microphone and they independently take care of their equipment.”

One other unique facet you will observe throughout our programs is the integration of self-advocacy and social skills. Children who are deaf or hard of hearing often need support and practice developing appropriate social skills.  They often need additional time to process an interaction that the rest of the group is experiencing. As a way of preparing them to enter the mainstream, we have developed a full scope and sequence of social skills to help students make the transition. These skills include: competency in maintaining their equipment; conflict resolution skills; appropriate use of social media; discerning fact from opinion; making and choosing friends; communication & conversation, choices and consequences; and health and safety concerns.  These are essential for children who are deaf.  We are confident that by providing instruction and practice these skills, we are giving our students just one more advantage in preparation to transition to the mainstream.  With strong academic and self advocacy skills, our students are highly self sufficient and typically require little additional support after transitioning to mainstream classrooms.

DePaul School for Hearing and Speech, formerly The DePaul Institute, was founded in 1908 by the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill.  DePaul is one of only 40 schools on the North American continent that provides LSL education to children who are deaf or hard of hearing and is the only such school within a 300 mile radius.  It is also one of only two schools in the country that provides Listening and Spoken Language education to students through eighth grade.  DePaul is known nationally and internationally for its success in teaching children who are deaf or hard of hearing to listen and speak.

DePaul’s academic programs include: Parent-Infant Program, Toddler-Parent Program, Preschool Program (serving children three to five years old), and Kindergarten, Elementary and Middle School Programs.  In addition, DePaul School provides the following related services on-site:  speech-language therapy; Auditory-Verbal therapy; teletherapy; audiological services including cochlear implant habilitation and support; physical therapy; occupational therapy; counseling; and parent education and support.

It is interesting to note that for years, we have had families relocate to DePaul School from as far away as Florida, Tennessee, Hawaii, Virginia, and many foreign countries (Russia, India, Saudi Arabia to name a few).  Our robust website has helped families to find us (www.depaulhearingandspeech.org )   If you have a child who is experiencing a hearing loss, or deafness, you have some great choices in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This region offers families excellent medical care, innovative medical technology, and a full-scale educational program to habilitate the process for children.

For more information, or to make a donation to support the work at DePaul School, go to www.depaulhearingandspeech.org .  If you are interested in taking a real-time tour of our school, we welcome you to reach out to DePaul School, give us a call at 412-924-1012 to request a tour.  We welcome every visitor. We have a well-kept secret, but our ambition is to get the word out and no longer be a secret!