School changing face of deaf education in Northeast Philadelphia

NORTHEAST PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Using new medical technology, a special pre-school aims to get deaf children ready to go to a mainstream school by kindergarten.

Six-year-old Mary Bevenour attends MaST Community Charter School in Northeast Philadelphia.

"Sometimes we have holidays there and parties," said Mary.

Talking with Action News, she appears to be like a typical kindergartner. But Mary is deaf in both ears. Without her cochlear implants, she can't hear.

To get her where she is today - listening and speaking - her family got help from the Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech.

Instead of focusing on sign language, they focus on spoken language.

Because all the students are deaf or profoundly hard of hearing, classrooms are set up to amplify sound, and work with medical technology.

Judy Sexton, Director of Clarke Schools Philadelphia, says about 90 percent of kids who are medically able to, get digital hearing aids or cochlear implants.

It's changed the face of deaf education, but it's still a process.

"It's not like putting glasses on," said Sexton.

She says hearing typically develops in utero so a child born deaf is 9 months behind. Accessing sound with technology is only the start.

"They have to learn how to make a connection that sound has meaning," said Sexton. "It's associating what they're hearing with language, but it takes time."

Three-year-old Alix started working with Clarke services as a baby, and is now in the pre-school program.

"She talks to us, she sings, she is obsessed with music and the guitar," said Mia Mandel, Alix's mother.

Kathy Bevenour says it was a tough decision to have Mary fitted for cochlear implants as a toddler, but they knew it would be harder for her if they waited.

"We just wanted Mary to have what every kid has," said Bevenour. "She's learned so much this year, she loves her classmates."

Clarke Schools also work with the families so what kids learn during pre-school will continue at home. Mary's parents say she's also learning some sign language. The hope is she can have the best of both worlds in the future.
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