When he was 2 years old, Eli Stachofsky and his parents learned that he was profoundly deaf.
“Ironically, my mom started comforting the nurse because the nurse started breaking down and felt a lot of compassion for my parents,” Stachofsky said. “My mum just felt a great sense of calm and was really able to comfort the nurse and say, ‘We’re going to be able to work our way through this. ”
The 19-year-old graduated from Spokane Valley Tech STEM Academy this summer. He was an athlete on the track team, wrestled and played football. Academically, Stachofsky has excelled and recently entered a premedical program at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, where he is dual majoring in biology and chemistry. In seven years, he will have his doctorate and hopes to become a family doctor.
None of this would have been possible without the Spokane Hearing Oral Excellence Program, Stachofsky said.
First preschoolers to attend Spokane HOPE are graduating from high school in public school classrooms, a milestone for the language-learning school as it tries to develop oral skills in deaf children and hearing impaired and then placing them in the mainstream public school system as kindergarten.
The major objective of the school: to teach children who are deaf or hard of hearing to listen, speak and succeed in any kindergarten class. HOPE sends 97% of its students to kindergarten, said Danette Driscoll, executive director.
“I was able to get into the mainstream public education system without any help,” Stachofksy said. “I was completely independent, I didn’t need anyone to help me…I felt as ready as I needed. I was in that class making friends, and no one really thought different from me.
HOPE opened 17 years ago and is the only such program in the region, Driscoll said. And it’s growing.
“Last year was the tipping point,” Driscoll said. “Last year was the first time we had to start turning families away.”
The school employs four teachers who are trained in language skills for the deaf and hard of hearing. There is a teaching assistant and a part-time speech therapist, Driscoll said.
For the 2021 school year, they have 74 children, Driscoll said, a number that grows each year. Most preschoolers have cochlear implants like Stachofsky.
From birth to age 3, HOPE teachers conduct hour-long home visits where they provide parents with methods to teach their child to speak.
When the toddler is ready, they move on to HOPE Preschool at 1821 E. Sprague Ave. This is where he learns socialization skills and builds on what he has learned in the so-called ‘Birth to 3 Years’ program.
Each teacher works with up to 30 families at any one time and offers assistance to schools in the Spokane and Spokane Valley areas. Recently, the school was asked to help more rural areas, Driscoll said.
Even after sending children to kindergarten classes, HOPE teachers are checking in with families as they navigate the “traditional” school system, said Laurel Graham, an early intervention provider.
“We also continue with this empowering role,” Graham said. “I have a parent who is nervous about his grandson going to preschool because he will be the first child with cochlear implants, so we were just thinking for his son in particular s ‘He was stressed.”
Parents also need to know the gear and lingo of the community, said Amy Hardie, HOPE’s director of education.
Hardie said it’s so they can advocate for their own child as they enter school, often in a classroom where a teacher may not have that knowledge.
“It’s an important part of the process, so we need to make sure our kids are self-advocates for their gear, and if they know their battery isn’t working, they can tell their friends,” said Bold.
With modern technology, about 97% of newborns are tested for some kind of hearing loss, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Research has shown that early intervention is better for developing language skills. The skill-building techniques that teachers give parents vary widely to meet each family’s needs and goals, Graham said.
About 52% of deaf children received instruction through spoken language only, according to responses to the Annual Survey of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children and Youth. Only 3% were taught with sign language only.
Hardie said language develops through more than the act of speaking; it’s about visual cues and exposing the toddler to all the sounds.
“There’s so much more to teach parents when they’re in their natural environment and the sounds they make here and there,” Hardie said. “It’s about teaching them bath time, diapers and meal times. We can work around their daily schedule to make language development easy and more natural for parents to teach their children the language. »
While researchers in the hearing science community debate whether spoken natural language or ASL is better for a child, there is agreement on one thing: children should be fluent in at least one language, and they must learn it early in life.
Early mastery of a language makes healthy cognitive development in children more likely, Hardie said.
Driscoll said cochlear implants, which the FDA approved in 2000 for infants as young as 12 months, have helped places like HOPE serve children at an earlier age and increase their chances of learning a language. .
Children also develop a healthier attitude toward their implant, Driscoll said.
“All the kids see other kids with implants, and they think that’s normal,” Driscoll said.
Another challenge came in the form of a global pandemic that swept through the community in 2020 and forced schools like HOPE to go online. For a school focused on hands-on learning and social interaction for kids, the pandemic has been “really difficult,” Hardie said.
Masks don’t help teach a child a language, Driscoll said, but she said it’s still better than distance learning.
Stachofsky said he would not have made it without the help of his HOPE teachers.
“My experience there was nothing short of phenomenal. It really transformed the way I interacted with the world, the way I am today,” Stachofsky said. “Without HOPE School, I wouldn’t be able to be on the phone with you right now, listening to you and talking to you. Because HOPE School has really been able to implement the capabilities communication skills that I needed to, you know, fully function as a global citizen, so yeah, I owe it to HOPE school and my parents.