Aug 2020 WCPO Cincinnati

Ohio Valley VoicesIt’s hard for the deaf and hard of hearing students to see a teacher’s mouth moving through a mask, so they’re finding creative ways around that. They need to – that’s how important this training is to the kids. Ohio Valley Voices, the school that teaches children who are deaf and hard of hearing how to listen and talk, started meeting for in-person learning sessions in early August. Until now, students and teachers were continuing their lessons online, but the nature of the sessions meant that meeting face-to-face would always be preferable.

Four-year-old Brooklyn Ballein had profound hearing loss after birth. A cochlear implant brought that sound back to her, but she needs to learn how to translate those sounds. “It's not your ears that hear – it's your brain,” said Ohio Valley Voices executive director Maria Sentelik. “So we have to train their brain how to interpret the sound they're receiving through cochlear implant or hearing aid so they can learn to talk.” Sentelik said time is of the essence – the best window to learn these skills is between ages 1 and 3. She said, after that, the child’s brain starts reassigning space. Time lost due to the coronavirus pandemic threatened the students’ learning curve.

“We knew we had to keep them above water, and so we did virtual learning, but we also knew it was just as critical to get them back in the rooms,” Sentelik said. “Back at Ohio Valley Voices.”

In the classrooms, where technology blips can’t get in the way of sound integrity, which she said is crucial for the progress of the kids. “Just the attention span of the preschoolers – you can’t do it remotely like you can in person,” said Ohio Valley Voices teacher Julie Carter.

In order for students to return to the classrooms, the building was divided into four community pods by age groups. Each pod has its own entrance and colour-coded lane down the hallway that leads to a classroom area that is further sectioned off for smaller group sessions and each group has their own bathroom in that space. The goal is no exposure to anyone outside of each child’s individual pod, but lots of language work inside of it.

Brooklyn spends a lot of time talking about the class’ pet rabbit. “He has big ears – big ears,” she said. “It makes all the difference in the world. There’s so much they glean from your face,” Carter said about the one-on-one time between teacher and student

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