At RPS, we believe that equity is a lens through which all decisions should be made. We strive to provide an education experience that meets all the needs of our students. The programs we offer, such as our Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) services, often provide a service to students for the first time.
DHH Services are offered at all RPS sites; the service delivery model is different between the sites/programs – the DHH Base Program vs. the DHH Neighborhood Program.) The DHH Base Program serves children with hearing loss starting in preschool through graduation and is offered at Hoover Early Learning School, Bamber Valley Elementary School, Willow Creek Middle School, and Mayo High School. Though attending the DHH Base Program is not required, we highly recommend families consider the Base Program to take full advantage of these services. DHH services are provided as long as a student has medical documentation of hearing impairment.
In virtually all cases, hearing impairment in a child is detected at a very early age, between preschool and second grade. If a parent or guardian notices this in their child, they will need verification of their hearing loss from a clinical audiologist. Once a child has had their hearing tested, the hearing test (audiogram) is shared with one of RPS’ Educational Audiologists to determine if the level of hearing loss may cause an educational impact and if they meet the MDE criteria for a special education evaluation (a child may have hearing loss but not to the degree of qualifying for services; having a hearing loss does not guarantee services). Any child with hearing loss who qualifies for SPED is able to attend the Base Program. Either the Educational Audiologist or DHH Teacher would reach out to the family to discuss the difference between the programming models and then offer a tour of the Base site they would be attending (elementary/middle/high school).
A child can transfer into the Base Program at any age, at any time during the school year. We have had students who have been identified with hearing loss transfer from JA to Willow midway through their eighth-grade year, for example. We have also had families elect to keep their child at their neighborhood site at first, only to change their minds later and send their child to the Base Site. The Base Program is always open to any child who qualifies for DHH SPED services. Families of students who are new to the district are quickly connected to one of the Educational Audiologists to discuss programming options and services. We have also welcomed students from neighboring school districts who have chosen to open-enroll in our Base Program knowing how our program model offers unique advantages to students with hearing loss.
There are six DHH notetakers at the secondary level that attend required academic courses and take notes. Once a class is over, they upload their notes onto the school Mayo High School website which can be accessible for anyone to view.
Students with hearing impairment face many challenges in the classroom. For some students, when fans are blowing, classroom chatter, or traffic in the hallways is noisy, it can distract and prevent them from hearing what is being taught in class. For other students, it can be difficult to keep up with how fast a teacher or student speaks or the volume of someone’s voice. DHH Notetakers help reduce the added anxiety students may experience while trying to take notes while listening to the teacher.
“It is very rewarding to help students with hearing impairment,” said Laura Allen, who has been a DHH notetaker with RPS for 15 years. “I love learning and helping others learn. I feel like I am providing a valuable service that students, parents, and teachers very much appreciate.”
The students in the DHH program create strong bonds with DHH staff and together create a supportive community for one another. For many of them, this is the first time they get to experience other people their age with hearing impairment.
“This program is more than just offering support with hearing aids; you get emotional support,” said Mayo High School senior Samantha H. “You get to interact with Denise who is like our mentor or be a mentor yourself, student-to-student. I am really close with a few of the freshmen in this program, and it’s so nice having close friendships with them and seeing them grow in confidence and feel seen and understood.”
Denise Jacobson is a Special Education teacher for DHH services and loves her job. Denise works with 22 students and her mission is to have all students that work with her look back at high school fondly. There are annual Individual Educational Plan (IEP) meetings between Denise, the student, the parents/guardians of the student, and their general education teachers of the student, as a team, they figure out how many minutes that student works with her. Depending on the agreement and the student’s needs, the DHH class can be every day during a certain class period or on a check-in basis where a student can come in once or twice a week to see where they are at with meeting their academic goals.
“My teaching style is very individualized because each student’s needs are so different,” Denise said. “For underclassmen, I may help them with their self-confidence when asking teachers for assistance and work on email etiquette. For upperclassmen, I may help them get organized for applying for colleges and scholarships. It is different depending on the student.”
Our Deaf and Hard of Hearing program is deeper than helping students hear in class; This program allows students to build confidence and gain a sense of belonging when life feels extra tricky. If you or someone wants to learn more about DHH resources, go to our Deaf and Hard of Hearing webpage. If your student has a hearing impairment and would like to get started with DHH services, contact one of the RPS’ Educational Audiologists, Dr. Deb Walters-Smith or Dr. Rachel Dodds.