Language school that provides resources and HOPE for hearing-impaired children seeing their first graduates


When he was 2 years old, Eli Stachofsky and his parents learned that he was profoundly deaf.

“Ironically, my mom started to comfort the nurse because the nurse started to break down and felt a lot of compassion for my parents,” Stachofsky said. “My mom just felt a great sense of calm and was able to really comfort the nurse and say, ‘We’re going to be able to work our way through this. “”

The 19-year-old graduated from Spokane Valley Tech STEM Academy this summer. He was an athlete on the track and field team, wrestled and played football. Academically, Stachofsky excelled and recently entered a premedical program at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, where he has a dual major in biology and chemistry. In seven years, he will get his doctorate and hopes to become a family doctor.

None of this would have been possible without the Spokane Hearing oral excellence program, Stachofsky said.

The first preschoolers to attend Spokane HOPE graduate from high school in public school classrooms, a milestone for the language learning school that tries to develop the oral skills of deaf and hard of hearing children, and then to place them in the mainstream public school system as kindergarten children.

The main objective of the school: to teach deaf or hard of hearing children to listen, to speak and to be successful in any kindergarten class. HOPE sends 97% of its students to kindergarten, said Danette Driscoll, executive director.

“I was able to enter the mainstream public education system without any help,” Stachofksy said. “I was completely independent, I didn’t need anyone to help me… I felt as ready as I needed to be. I was in this class making friends, and no one really thought any different from me.

HOPE opened 17 years ago and is the only program of its kind in the region, Driscoll said. And it grows.

“Last year was the tipping point,” Driscoll said. “Last year was the first time we had to start turning away families.”

The school employs four teachers who are trained in the language skills of the deaf and hard of hearing. There is a part-time teaching assistant and speech-language pathologist, Driscoll said.

For the 2021 school year, they have 74 children, said Driscoll, a number that is growing every year. Most preschoolers have cochlear implants like Stachofsky.

From birth to age 3, HOPE teachers make hour-long home visits where they teach parents how to teach their child to speak.

When the toddler is ready, he goes to HOPE Kindergarten at 1821 E. Sprague Ave. It is there that he learns socialization skills and deepens what he has learned during the so-called “birth to 3” program.

Each teacher works with up to 30 families at one time and offers support to schools in the Spokane and Spokane Valley areas. Recently, the school has been asked to help more rural areas, Driscoll said.

Even after sending children to kindergarten classes, HOPE teachers register with families as they navigate the “main” school system, said Laurel Graham, an early intervention provider.

“We are also continuing this empowering role,” Graham said. “I have a parent who is nervous about his grandson going to preschool because he will be the first child to have cochlear implants, so we were just thinking about his son in particular. if he’s stressed. “

Parents also need to be familiar with the equipment and lingo that comes with the community, said Amy Hardie, director of education at HOPE.

Hardie said it’s so they can stand up for their own child when they enter school, often in a classroom where a teacher may not have that knowledge.

“It’s an important part of the process, so we have to make sure that our kids are defending their equipment themselves, and if they know their battery isn’t working, they can tell their friends,” Hardie said.

With modern technology, about 97% of newborns are tested for some kind of hearing loss, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Research has shown that early intervention is better for developing language skills. The skill-building techniques teachers give parents vary widely to meet the needs and goals of each family, Graham said.

About 52% of deaf children received education only through the spoken language, according to responses from the Annual Survey of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children and Youth. Only 3% were taught with sign language only.

Hardie said that language develops beyond the act of speaking; it is about visual cues and exposing the toddler to all sounds.

“There is so much more to teach parents when they are in their natural surroundings, and the sounds they make here and there,” said Hardie. “It teaches them bath time, diaper changes and meal times. We can work around their daily schedule to make language development easier and more natural for parents to teach their children the language.

As researchers in the hearing science community debate whether natural spoken language or ASL is better for a child, there is agreement on one thing: Children need to master at least one language, and they must learn it early in life.

Early fluency in a language makes healthy cognitive development in a child more likely, Hardie said.

Driscoll said cochlear implants, which the FDA approved in 2000 for infants as young as 12 months old, have helped places like HOPE serve children at a younger age, and thus increase their chances of learning a language. .

Children also develop a healthier attitude towards their implant, Driscoll said.

“All kids can see other kids with implants, and they think it’s normal,” Driscoll said.

Another challenge came in the form of a global pandemic that swept through the community in 2020 and forced schools like HOPE to transition online. For a school focused on hands-on learning and social interaction for children, the pandemic has been “really tough,” Hardie said.

Masks don’t help when trying to teach a child a language, Driscoll said, but she said it’s always better than distance learning.

Stachofsky said he would not have succeeded without the help of his HOPE teachers.

“My experience there was simply phenomenal. It really transformed the way I interact with the world, as I am today, ”said Stachofsky. “Without the HOPE School, I wouldn’t be able to be on the phone with you right now, listen to you and talk to you. Because the HOPE school was really able to implement the communication skills that I needed to, you know, fully function as a citizen of the world. So, yes, I owe it to the HOPE school and to my parents.

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