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School Opens For Central Florida Toddlers Who Are Deaf And Hard Of Hearing

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech
The Florida Channel
Central Florida is now home to one of few auditory-oral schools for toddlers in Florida.

A school devoted to teaching toddlers who are deaf and have difficulty hearing will open its doors Wednesday in Winter Park.

The Clarke School for Hearing and Speech, part of a small network of private schools across the country, is central Florida’s first auditory-oral school for 2-, 3-, and 4-year-olds. It is one of few of its kind in the state.

Teachers there are trained to help children with cochlear implants and other hearing devices learn to communicate alongside their hearing peers by kindergarten. The teachers will focus on spoken language techniques rather than sign language.

“Our goal is to have children with language and vocabulary scores that are matching their hearing peers so they function in a normal school setting,” said co-director Cynthia Robinson.

The school will welcome eight pre-kindergartners in its first class, which will be held at Winter Park Presbyterian Church. Some have cochlear implants.

Robinson said it is a game changer in an arena where technology to help young people hear is advancing, adding that schools need more people trained to understand the children’s needs and teach them how to express themselves.

“We don’t have enough qualified professionals,” she said. “We don’t have enough early invention to really get these children the start they need to fulfill the promise that the technology provides us.”

The Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech opened their first school in Florida in 1996 in Jacksonville.

Tuition there can range from $30,000 and up per student per year. Florida students, however, are receiving substantial aid from government subsidies specifically for children with special needs.

Renata joined the WVIK News team in March 2014, as the Amy Helpenstell Foundation Fellow. She anchors during Morning Edition and All Things Considered, produces features, and reports on everything from same-sex marriage legislation to unemployment in the Quad Cities.