The spirit of the season filled the classrooms on a recent day at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech in Jacksonville, Florida.
In one class, a teacher led her energetic preschoolers in an assignment that involved decorating a Christmas tree. Later that morning, a student practiced her language skills by reading her letter to Santa aloud to a group of visitors. Schoolwide, classes were preparing for an upcoming holiday concert.
Other than the hearing aids and cochlear implants worn by the children, the scene was no different than in any other preschool anywhere.
Administrators at Clarke know that visitors are sometimes surprised when they visit one of their campuses for the first time. In a post for Giving Matters earlier this year, Chief Development Officer Lillian Rountree challenged anyone new to Clarke to “just spend a few moments with our preschoolers to see—and hear—the potential.”
Clarke has been involved in this work for some time. In fact, 2017 has been a year of celebration for Clarke, which has been serving deaf children and those with hearing loss for 150 years. Its Jacksonville location also celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.
Indeed, there is much to celebrate. Clarke serves more than 1,300 children annually at its five campuses along the East Coast. In addition to the one in Jacksonville, there are campuses in Boston and Northampton, Massachusetts; New York, New York; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Clarke has the ability to reach thousands more children and their families through programs like its Early Intervention Program and its Telepractice Virtual Intervention Services for Infants and Toddlers, or tVISIT. Through tVISIT, Clarke can serve families in distant locations through video conferencing.
JSF provided financial support for the tVISIT program. Over the past 10 years, the Foundation has provided grants for many other purposes as well, including residential scholarships, website upgrades and support of the Early Intervention Program.
I was excited to learn that in addition to the tVISIT program, another way in which Clarke reaches beyond its borders is by providing internships for student teachers who are interested in working with children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Some 60 education students from Florida colleges and universities complete their practicum requirements at Clarke Jacksonville each year, helping to fill a need for skilled teachers of the deaf.
Not surprisingly, the leadership at Clarke Jacksonville can attest to many success stories. Co-Director Alisa Demico has been at the site since it was founded two decades ago, and she remains in touch with many of the students who were in the very first preschool class. Today, most of those students either have graduated or are attending college, she said.
That is likely welcome news for many Clarke parents. For them, a bright future for their children is not just a holiday wish. At Clarke, it is becoming reality, each and every day.