By Edwin Folven, 10/25/2012
When Connor Silver, who has been deaf since birth, entered Echo Horizon School at four-and-a-half years old, he had difficulty speaking and could not hear anything without a cochlear implant and hearing aids.
When Silver graduated sixth grade last summer at age 12, his voice was clear and strong, and he credited his accomplishments to a unique program at Echo Horizon School in which students who are deaf or hard of hearing are mainstreamed in classes with their non-hearing impaired peers.
“At his graduation, he thanked the school for giving him a voice,” Connor’s mother, Ivonne Silver, said. “It was the mainstream approach where Connor was put in classes with his peers. That inclusiveness, that gave Connor that dream.”
Silver said that soon after she enrolled Connor at the campus, she knew something was different about Echo Horizon School.
“In pre-kindergarten … my son came home and said, ‘Today, I painted like Michelangelo’,” Silver said. “I asked him, ‘Like Michelangelo the Ninja Turtle?’ and he said, ‘No, like Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel.’”
Connor, now 12, is currently attending Wildwood Middle School in West Los Angeles, a mainstream private campus. Although he suffers from hearing impairment, Connor has all the tools needed to further his education, his mother said, adding without Echo Horizon School, her son would not have achieved such success.
While some schools place emphasis on sign language for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, sign language is not taught or used at Echo Horizon School. Head of School Paula Dashiell said eliminating the use of sign language better prepares students to communicate with others as they grow older because they learn by actually speaking and interacting.
“If you just grew up signing, it would be hard to interact with the hearing world,” Dashiell added. “But if they can speak and use their residual hearing productively, there are so many more options for them.”
As part of the school’s Echo Center Program, teachers who are trained to work with hearing impaired students accompany them in the classroom to provide the necessary special attention. But Dashiell said student interaction is key, and hearing impaired and non-hearing impaired children learn from each other.
“When they do a collaborative project, they work together in small groups, which is a lot more important than focusing on what is different,” Dashiell said. “When they are out there having P.E., no one cares who is deaf, but who can kick the ball the farthest. The program is not made easier in any shape or form. These kids rise to the challenge.”
Hearing impaired and non-hearing impaired students complete lessons in the same classes, paint or build pottery in art class, play together at recess and overcome any challenges they face together. They collaborate on writing assignments, compete on the same sports teams and dance in movement classes.
“It is important that deaf and hard of hearing students have connections with other children. They are faced with dealing with the hearing world, and it helps them develop hearing skills, language skills and speaking skills,” Dashiell said. “It creates an opportunity for them to accept the reality of their lives and enter an environment where they are interacting with other people and they don’t feel different.”
Echo Horizon School was founded in 1983 by Carol Proctor Landsberg, and her late husband, Kent H. Landsberg, who realized there was a need for a school that served deaf and hard of hearing students and hearing students in the same environment. Carol Proctor Landsberg had previously run a pre-school specializing in hearing impaired children, and provided support for the students as they moved into traditional schools. They founded Echo Horizon School to expand the option to students in pre-K through sixth grade. The school is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary.
Dashiell said 24 of the 256 students currently enrolled are hearing impaired, and their level of impairment varies from partial to complete hearing loss. Some students have cochlear implants that help them hear by transmitting sound waves directly to the brain, while others have traditional hearing aids that amplify sound. The goal has always been to keep the number of deaf or hard of hearing students at no more than 10 percent of the total school population to create a cohesive student body. The school’s program for deaf and hard of hearing students is currently at capacity, Dashiell said. New students are accepted each year, but there is a rigorous application and evaluation process, and each student is evaluated on an individual basis.
Vicki Ishida, head of the Echo Center Program, said technology now plays an important role in educating the students. Echo Horizon School has been named an Apple Distinguished School for the past two years, recognizing its use of Apple computer products in the classroom. Third through sixth grade students each have their own Mac laptop computers, while the other students share their laptops or iPads in the classrooms on a two-to-one ratio. All classrooms also utilize Apple Smartboards, which are similar to computerized chalkboards that connect to all computers in the classroom.
“It is amazing how much the technology has progressed, and how important it is in their education. We are in the golden age of technology, and it allows the kids to do phenomenal things,” Ishida added. “Students are taught to listen and to speak, and it allows the kids to fully integrate into the general classroom. We have set the bar so these students can achieve all of the things their peers achieve.”
In addition to academic courses, Echo Horizon School provides a strong emphasis on music, visual arts, creative arts and movement/dance courses. There are also a variety of physical education programs, and an extensive library.
“It’s academics, but it’s also the arts and technology and physical education woven in. It’s very integrated with a character education program, where they are shown it matters how they interact with each other,” Dashiell added. “By the time they move on, they have a firm foundation to take with them.”
Tags | Echo Horizon School