You might think a pre-school for children who are deaf or hard of hearing would be quiet, but you'd be surprised. There are several different approaches to teaching deaf children to communicate. Some focus on sign language, others on listening and speaking. This school does both. It's the Center for Early Intervention on Deafness known as C.E.I.D.
"Our model of communication is called total communication. We believe in using every avenue to help children develop their listening, spoken language and communication skills," said Jill Ellis, the C.E.I.D. executive director.
Ellis founded C.E.I.D. in Berkeley more 32 years ago. I first visited in 1998. C.E.I.D. began teaching deaf children and very quickly it was obvious they needed to teach parents sign language too.
"One of the first shocks to me was when one of the kids woke up to tell me the next day at school he had a bad dream. I thought, 'You couldn't tell your parents, you had no way to communicate with your own parents what happened.' They didn't sign and many times they didn't have the expectation that their children even could communicate," said Ellis.
But now expectations are as high as for any hearing child. C.E.I.D. has a state of the art building, comprehensive services for preschoolers with a range of hearing loss, and many kids who benefit from technological advances in hearing aids and cochlear implants.
As for that class of six toddlers I visited 14 years ago, two are now juniors in high school and four just graduated. All are headed to college. I was proud to host a program honoring the five students who still live in the Bay Area and I had a great time re-connecting with them. That little girl who helped me sign years ago, Davana Jackson-Robertson, she's going to Gallaudet University in Washington D.C.
Ashley: Now when you talk to me, do you rely mainly on audio or watch my lips?
Jackson-Robertson: I mainly watch your lips and audio.
Ashley: Without watching my lips, could you hear or would it be really difficult?
Jackson-Robertson: It would be a might difficult, like if you talk find of fast, but usually it's okay.
Jimmy Waller is going to Pomona College in Claremont. He graduated from high school with at 4.3 GPA and perfect scores on S.A.T. exams. He told me the hardest part of high school was social life.
Ashley: Describe to me the difficulty in trying to socialize with your friends.
Waller: You just don't catch everything and you feel like you are missing out on stuff even, even when you are not really, but on the other hand people are nice, they will make sure you understand.
Raffa Menjivar is all grown up now too and is a wrestler going into his senior year at Albany High. Livermore High School graduate Daniel Ocasio will play baseball at Cal State East Bay. Sports helps him fit in with classmates.
"They respect me more, I think," said Ocasio.
Nia Lazarus is off to Georgetown University in the fall. She used an interpreter in high school and will in college too. She plans to study international relations and Italian, then work for the United Nations fighting for the rights of deaf people in other countries.
Parents told an audience of donors and government officials about their pride in their kids. And those critical pre-school years they spent at C.E.I.D.
"I used to think that they started with a disadvantage, but thanks to C.E.I.D. I've started to wonder who started with a disadvantage," said Will Ocasio, Daniel's father.
Over the years, C.E.I.D. has helped thousands of children and Jill is proud of every single one. "Well, I am overwhelmed. I am so impressed with these kids and their families' ability to take on these challenges."
C.E.I.D.'s budget is about $1.5 million a year, but families with deaf children pay nothing. They get some government funding, but the school still has to raise about $500,000 a year in private donations.
To donate or find out more about the programs offered by the Center for Early Intervention On Deafness: www.ceid.org
Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.