LOVELAND, Ohio — 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 color-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.
In adjusting to the COVID-19 world, the teachers are coming up with ways to protect themselves but visually teach. It’s hard for the 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.
“It is the rest of their lives and it makes all the difference for them and it changes their whole life,” Sentelik said.
The children learn to become listeners and speakers in our conversational world. The leadership at Ohio Valley Voices said they can’t allow the pandemic to get in the way of that life-long gift.