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Sound Beginnings Preschool opened

Preschool students with hearing loss prepared for success in kindergarten

Sound Beginnings Teacher Shelby Hamby calls seven preschool children over one-by-one to join her for a morning snack. "Melanie, I want you to sit in the chair with the red plate," she says. Throughout the snack-time exercise - as the children enjoy and discuss carrots and broccoli - Ms. Hamby delivers intentional instruction. The children are expected to listen and respond to her questions. "By using this intensive interaction," says Special Services Program Manager Carol Sonier, "we are developing listening and spoken language skills students will need to be successful in kindergarten."

That's important because three of the seven students have some degree of hearing loss. The other children are reverse mainstream preschoolers serving as peer language models. Melanie, Abel and Kevin are the first students enrolled in the new Sound Beginnings Preschool. The preschool occupies a special education classroom on the Liberty School District campus, south of Visalia. Melanie, Abel and Kevin attend an oral preschool each day from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Mrs. Sonier reports that a "total communication" class will begin meeting this month at the site each afternoon. Students in the total communication class will receive instruction utilizing both oral and sign language.

Sound Beginnings The Sound Beginnings Preschool was conceived to provide deaf and hard-of-hearing students a continuity of instruction beyond what they receive from Special Service's Bright Start Parent/Infant Program. Bright Start serves children from infancy to their third birthday. For children with hearing loss, Sound Beginnings can offer three- and four-year-olds speech and listening instruction with the goal of having them begin school at the same level as their normally-hearing peers.

Last spring, Sound Beginnings operated a pilot program in partnership with Sundale Union School District. The program included three children who were born deaf, but had received cochlear implants. "We appreciate Sundale for welcoming our program and investing the time to train their staff," says County Superintendent Jim Vidak.

Back in class, Melanie, Abel and Kevin have moved to individual work exercises involving sorting, color recognition, numbers and letters. "It's a great opportunity for us to have these wonderful children in Sound Beginnings this year," says Mrs. Sonier. "Our work is particularly important as Melanie, Abel and Kevin are English learners. We look forward to our work in preparing them for kindergarten."

For younger children with hearing loss, Special Services staff will work with parents to navigate the complex process of obtaining hearing aids if they are deemed appropriate. The Special Services Division has also obtained certification from California Children's Services to conduct diagnostic infant hearing testing. Audiologist Dr. Jim Beauchamp at the Hearing and Speech Center in Tulare can test infants up to nine months old utilizing electronic equipment. "This certification provides Tulare County parents with the convenience of having the screening performed locally and it expands the services we provide to deaf and hard-of-hearing students," says Dr. Marilyn Rankin, assistant superintendent of Special Services.

Photos above:
~ Teacher Shelby Hamby leads snack-time instruction, which incorporates social skills.
~ Melanie, who wears a hearing aid, enjoys a numbers matching exercise.