Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech help over 1,000 children who are deaf or hard of hearing and their families. The school was founded in 1867 in Northampton, Massachusetts, by Gardiner Green Hubbard, whose four-year-old daughter, Mabel, became deaf at age 4 after suffering from scarlet fever. Hubbard believed his daughter could learn to speak, and, with the help of teachers of speech and language, she learned by age 10 to speak as well as children who were not deaf or hard of hearing.
Started with the help of benefactor John Clarke, the school was the first in the country to train students who were deaf or hard of hearing through oral instruction, rather than the use of sign language. The goal is to help children learn to listen and speak and to eventually help them enter mainstream programs to be educated alongside peers who are not deaf or hard of hearing. In addition, in recent years, Clarke has opened four additional schools in Boston (in 1995), Jacksonville (in 1996), New York (in 1999) and Philadelphia (in 2001).
The education of deaf and hard of hearing children has changed greatly in recent years, with the implementation of universal screenings of newborns for hearing impairment and the development of cochlear implants. Cochlear implants, which are now generally used for children, are not the same as hearing aids, which amplify sound. Instead, they gather sound information and send it directly to the brain using electronic signals, thereby bypassing the hair cells in the cochlea, which are damaged in people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
As a result, children who are born deaf or hard of hearing can learn to speak and listen at younger ages, and the Clarke School’s mission, unlike other schools for the deaf that use American Sign Language (ASL), is to teach children to speak and listen. Children receive hearing aids and cochlear implants and are taught to speak and listen with the help of speech-language pathologists and audiologists. The goal is mainstreaming, or helping children enter programs with their hearing peers, and, with early intervention services, many students can mainstream by kindergarten.
Clarke offers a program for students in grades K-8, as well as a birth-to-three program and a pre-school program. Clarke offers some families early intervention services through its teleservices program, the largest in the nation, which allows the school to help children who live far from the school or in remote areas. The school also has an itinerant teacher program to help students and teachers in mainstream school settings. Since 1962, Clarke has had a partnership with Smith College to offer a master’s in education of the deaf. The program has educated over 1,500 students, who have gone on to teach deaf and hard-of-hearing children in 50 states and 34 countries. The students live and work on the campus, and they work in the classroom and in the communication lab and get to know the students through working them in the dormitories as well.
When students graduate from Clarke, they go on to mainstream schools, and 97% of them graduate from high school, and 70% go to college and/or graduate school. In 2012, the school's K-8 program was relocated to a nearby public school, and this “school within a school” model will help students receive specialized services while being educated with hearing peers. The residential program, the last oral deaf program of its kind in the country, was discontinued in the fall of 2012, which signifies a sea change in the education of deaf and hard of hearing students, as new technology has enabled students to enter mainstream schools. However, Clarke’s many campuses still play an important role in providing services to children who are deaf and hard of hearing and their families. The birth to three program, pre-school program, master's program, hearing center, and teleservices program are still located at the Northampton campus.
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