St. Louis’ Central Institute for the Deaf, one of the nation’s premier centers for educating the hearing impaired, is expanding its services. “Our mission at CID is to teach children to listen, talk, read and succeed,” says Robin Feder, executive director of CID. “We partner with families and collaborate with universities, educators and other professionals worldwide to help children communicate and achieve their fullest potential.” To that end, Feder says the institute will be offering free speech and language screening for preschoolers in May, which is Better Hearing and Speech Month.
Sometimes a ‘normal hearing’ preschooler needs a boost in language skills before they start kindergarten, so CID is holding an early intervention class in June and July, and year-round, for language-delayed, hearing preschoolers. “We encourage parents to get their preschooler screened if their 2 1/2 to 3-year-old is not yet using four- and five-word sentences in conversations or a varied vocabulary,” Feder suggests. The early intervention class will be taught by a licensed speech pathologist in a dynamic, child-friendly, and print- and language-rich environment.
Feder says CID has two arms. The first is the school itself, which serves mostly deaf and hard of hearing children from birth to age 12. The school has had great success, regardless of the severity of hearing loss in its students, teaching them to speak, understand the speech of others and achieve academically. Children stay in CID programming until they’re ready to be mainstreamed, often for several years. But “our goal is to get them back into their school districts,” Feder says.
The second arm of CID is its work with professionals and educators. “In the past 10 years, we’ve hosted 53 workshops with participants from 44 states and six foreign countries, more than 1,000 professionals total,” she reports. “We have developed curriculum and other teaching and testing materials that are sold throughout the country and the world. One set of our materials was recently translated into Marathi by a professional in India!”
Since its founding in 1914, CID has served children from 48 states and 28 foreign countries. Last year the school program taught 120 children, while 45 others were served by the audiology department, where the institute fits hearing aids and ‘maps’ cochlear implants for students, alumni and the Medicaid population.
“Access to sound is critical to language development,” says Feder. “The normal child develops language through hearing their parent or caregiver say words over and over. A deaf or hard-of-hearing child needs to hear those sounds also. We have to then couple the amazing amount of auditory signals that technology provides with appropriate education. We literally teach our children how to listen and talk.”
CID moved into a new building in 2000, and the school is state-of-the-art. “We’ve got SMART Boards in all our classrooms, interactive white boards that project what’s on the computer screen onto a board at the front. Your finger becomes the mouse and you’re able to pull up anything, pictures and sounds and Internet activities, in front of the class,” Feder says. “It’s interactive and motivating for the children. It opens up an amazing world,” she says. “One CID alum, Edwin Slye, lived in Montana and was a dairy farmer. He left us a $750,000 bequest a couple years ago that allowed us to buy the SMART Boards and also save a portion for our endowment,” Feder recalls. “We’re grateful for Mr. Slye. We changed his life significantly, but in turn, he has changed the lives of our children by allowing us to have this technology in our classrooms.”
Fund-raising for CID is crucial to its mission because the school enrolls all children in need, regardless of the family’s ability to pay. To ensure this ongoing availability, the annual CID Ultimate Picnic on May 10 will raise much needed funds with a dinner and auction to support children attending the school. The highlight of the event is a performance by students. This year’s theme is the roaring ‘20s. The cocktail part of the picnic takes place outdoors, the remainder in the school gymnasium, which transforms into an intimate lounge.
Last year’s program raised $234,000, Feder says. “It’s expensive to teach our children, we have very small classes; the teacher-child ratio is 1 to 4 and there are a lot of associated costs. We are so grateful for the support the community gives us.”