Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

School Won't Let Impaired Hearing Stand in Kids' Way; Clarke Jacksonville Teaches Auditory, Oral Skills to Improve Communication, Prepare Students for Traditional Classroom

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

School Won't Let Impaired Hearing Stand in Kids' Way; Clarke Jacksonville Teaches Auditory, Oral Skills to Improve Communication, Prepare Students for Traditional Classroom

Article excerpt

Byline: MARY KELLI PALKA

For the first two years of her life, Anna Maria McGowen didn't hear a sound.

And instead of babbling as a baby or stringing words together as a toddler, she would scream and yell to let her parents know what she wanted.

Alex and Tony McGowen knew something was wrong.

At first, Alex McGowen thought her daughter had a speech delay. But she didn't know her daughter was profoundly deaf until doctors diagnosed her when she was 2 1/2 years old.

McGowen knew almost immediately that she didn't want her daughter's primary form of communication to be sign language.

"I wanted her to be able to talk and to sing and to be able to do all of the beautiful things other kids can do," she said.

So the family, then living in West Palm Beach, opted for Anna Maria to get cochlear implants, devices surgically placed in the inner ear area to help a person hear.

It wouldn't be easy for Anna Maria. She would have a lot of catching up to do.

Doctors in South Florida told the family of a school in Jacksonville that specializes in helping children with cochlear implants and hearing aids to listen and talk. And that's how they came to live in Northeast Florida three years ago, and how Anna Maria, then 3 1/2 became a student at the Clarke Jacksonville Auditory/Oral Center.

And that's why Anna Maria -- who was later joined at Clarke by her younger sisters, Ashley Rose, who's 5 and has moderate to severe hearing loss, and Allison Julia, born profoundly deaf 2 1/2 years ago -- learned to talk and to listen.

Now the Anna Maria who couldn't listen to music just a few years ago loves to sing and dance. And her sisters love to join along.

PREPARING STUDENTS FOR FUTURE

Since 1996, Massachusetts-based Clarke has provided academic and therapeutic programs for children from infancy through about 7 years of age. It serves more than 50 students in Jacksonville, one of its five campus.

The goal, local executive director Susan Allen said, is to prepare the students to sit in a traditional classroom in a public or private elementary school by second grade.

Clarke isn't a place for every child with a hearing impairment. The school specializes in helping students with hearing aids or cochlear implants and doesn't teach sign language.

And it isn't cheap. The tuition for the coming year is about $19,500, Allen said. She has fundraisers to help parents who don't have enough money to cover as much of the tuition as possible.

Insurance covers some therapeutic costs. And contracts with the Clay, St. Johns, Nassau and Baker county school districts help cover the educational cost, based on state allocations, of students from those counties who are at least 3 years old. (Payments vary by district and by the needs of children.) Allen said fundraising dollars cover what the districts don't.

The McGowens didn't have to pay but about $100 a month when Anna Maria first attended the school because of grants from the school and Medicaid. Then, when they were looking to buy a house a few months after they moved to Jacksonville, friends suggested Clay County.

Because the district began contracting with Clarke a few years ago, the McGowens don't have to worry about the cost of the program now for their three girls.

Public school districts are required to provide services to children with disabilities from the time they turn 3. Some districts, including Duval, provide those services on their own, from intensive therapy similar to that found at Clarke to placing students in traditional classrooms and offering additional services as needed.

Duval would consider offering Clarke as an option if parents requested it, said Kenneth W. Sutton, the district's executive director of exceptional education and student services. …

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