Virtual learning furthers challenges for students with hearing and speech difficulties

At a Louisville hearing and language school, only two students will graduate from a program that nearly 15 students complete in a normal year

Virtual learning furthers challenges for students with hearing, speech difficulties

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Amid months of virtual instruction in Jefferson County Public Schools and partner institutions, students with hearing and speech impairments encountered exceptional challenges learning online.

At the Heuser Hearing and Language Academy in Louisville, education director Debbie Woods said only two students will graduate from a program that nearly 15 students complete in a normal year.

“When they leave we test them to see if they have reached their peers who are typically hearing. A lot did not reach that milestone this year and that is because of the pandemic,” she said. “They have to spend one more year with us, but that’s okay, we have that year to make up that ground. We have the summer to make up that ground.”

Aisha Thomas enrolled her 3-year-old son Camden at Heuser last fall. He lost his hearing as a newborn, but even with Cochlear implants, he lags in speaking ability which Thomas said was frustrating for him during NTI.

“I don’t want to say it was terrible but we spent probably 30 minutes prior to logging on, he would tantrum,” she said.

Thomas said she planned for Camden to complete one year at Heuser, but at times it felt the progress he needed to graduate the program was “at a standstill.”

“I think it kind of slowed down once virtual started, there were months where we did nothing,” she said.

Brittany Westerfield said her 5-year-old daughter Charlotte, also has issues with speech and may have to repeat kindergarten after a year of virtual learning.

“And she would try to give an answer and it wasn’t necessarily understood and that was very frustrating for her,” she said.

Westerfield explained Charlotte graduated from Heuser last year, but after NTI, she came back for occupational therapy.

“Not only were we not seeing growth for her at the time, but she also was not really staying on track,” she said.

Speaking to WAVE 3 News, Woods said Heuser worked to support students in virtual instruction by delivering weekly at-home learning kits.

“We developed over 300 kits. It was filled with surprises, books, manipulatives, different things that went with the learning to keep it fresh.”

As JCPS students resume in-person learning on a hybrid schedule, Woods said some students have already regained lost learning. Heuser will also host a weeks-long summer program for students who need it.

“We normally have a one-week summer program; this year we’re looking to extend it to make it a little more extensive,” she said. “We’re really focusing on literacy, sounds, and producing language.”

Wood said Heuser is expecting a large enrollment this fall with many students repeating the program and new students joining after their speech and hearing impairments were discovered during NTI.

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