Like most parents, we struggled with how to provide the best education for our Deaf child. The Early Learning Center at Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind turned out to be the perfect choice for us. We want to share an overview of our experience there so that you can see why the Early Learning Center works so well. If you are the parent of a young Deaf child, please visit FSDB’s ELC before choosing your child’s school.
A great place to start with a sense of family and community.
As a parent, we do all that we can to make sure our children are taken care of well. We learn as much as we can. We teach our kids as much as possible so that they will be ready for school and for life. However, sometimes we are challenged with unforeseen circumstances that slow us down in helping our children learn and grow. Our unforeseen circumstance was that our son was born Deaf and we are hearing. So we needed help quickly to learn his language, not only for him, but for us. It took my husband and I almost two years to finally get the guidance and the help we needed to point us in the right direction.
When Michael was about three years old, we met our first Deaf friend David. It was through him that we discovered the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind and the amazing community of people here. David went to school at FSDB as a boarding student from the age of six. He graduated in 1965 and he still considers it his second home. We met with David several times a month and it seems that every time we met, he would tell us about the school and why we had to check it out. He would always say. “It is best for him (Michael). You will see. You will see.” We didn’t realize it then but he was absolutely right. We finally decided to visit and David set up a tour of the school for us with Rick Coleman. We drove from Orlando to visit what soon became our son’s school. It was a great visit that left a huge impression on our minds and our hearts. This was our first time experiencing the Early Learning Center (ELC) as well. It was nothing like the other public school options we had in Orlando. We could never see sending Michael to one of those schools. We immediately knew that FSDB and Saint Augustine was the place for Michael and our family. After our visit to the school, we came back for a family weekend to learn more. My husband was able to quickly find a new job here and we quickly searched for a place to live. We moved to St. Augustine seven weeks later. FSDB and everyone in it made us feel like family and our hearts were overjoyed that we had found loving, caring people that were excited to not only help our son, but to help our family as well.
As Michael entered Pre-K at the ELC, it wasn’t easy for me to share my sweet boy but all the wonderful staff certainly helped a lot. Michael knew enough signs to communicate with us. However, it was a constant struggle trying to get him to sign, because all of his friends were hearing and everyone around him was hearing. Within a week of going to the ELC he started signing about everything, some of it was ASL and some of it was babble signs, but he was signing and we were ecstatic! The staff in the ELC taught Michael his name, how to spell it, write it and sign it and I cried when I found out, because my baby finally knew who he was. His name was just the first of many things that he learned at school. We watched him grow and were very proud of him for working so hard. The ELC staff are so caring and have big hearts and love all the children and the parents that come through the doors. We are so pleased with all the time that the ELC staff spends with the children and all the extra little things they do for the families. We are grateful to all the ELC staff for helping us through our first and only year in Pre-k and for helping to prepare Michael for Kindergarten.
Thank you to all the ELC staff for all your hard work and dedication to our children! I don’t know where Michael’s learning and communication skills would be without you!
We had many memorable and educational experiences throughout the year. Here are some of my favorite things that took place throughout the school year at the ELC.
They had a Thanksgiving Play and the kids got to paint the scenery and help make their own costumes. The kids were so adorable on stage. They did a great job and the teachers and assistants did an amazing job directing these little ones in the production. Of course, I was a proud mom watching my little boy on the stage in his first play.
Afterwards, there was a potluck lunch where I was able to meet some of the other parents and get to know them better. It is great to be able to develop relationships with the parents of my son’s classmates. I have made some great friends and have learned a lot from them as well.
One of the coolest things at FSDB is Kids Town. Each year, Kids Town “Comes Alive”.
Kids Town is pretty much a miniature replica of Saint Augustine with actual little buildings that the kids can walk into and explore. There is a general store, a library, a fire station, a hospital, a bank, a grocery store, a post office, a hardware store, and even the Lighthouse. One day, the kids got to spend the day at Kids Town. They were given a ‘check’ to cash at the bank. Then, they got to spend their money at all of the little stores. They also got a library card and got to play ‘carpenter’ and tiled the floor in the hardware store. This gave the kids a great opportunity to learn about real life experiences.
It is amazing to see the diversity of students at FSDB as well. The ELC had a Christmas Party called ‘Christmas Around The World’. There was a parent who grew up in Serbia. She brought traditional Serbian food and shared some stories about what Christmas is like there. There were also some parents who had adopted a deaf child from China. They shared foods and Christmas traditions from China. We learned about Christmas in America and Poland as well. The students went to different sections of the classroom that represented the different countries and they got to learn about each one. This was a great experience for all of us.
Of course, a Christmas celebration wouldn’t be complete without a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus. As it turns out, Santa has the same birthday as Michael and he and Mrs. Claus have a deaf daughter who graduated from FSDB several years ago. They have been volunteering as Santa and Mrs. Claus at the school and throughout the community for years. By the way, you can click on the pictures to view them larger. This picture of Michael with Santa is adorable!
Another very touching moment was when the kids all went Christmas Caroling at a local nursing home. It was great to hear their adorable little voices and to see their little hands signing the songs. It was sweet to see the joy on the faces of the residents of the home who truly enjoyed the performance.
I loved the Mother’s Day Tea as well. Michael made me a placemat with his footprints and a poem. It was beautiful! Michael also served me my food and drink. It was a special day.
All the kids in the ELC got to paint a work of art on an 8×10 canvas that was donated by Michael’s Craft Store. The canvases were displayed all over town as part of Saint Augustine’s 450th Anniversary Celebration.
I remember that a local Theater group came in and performed several plays that the kids really enjoyed. There were several field trips as well that gave the kids great experiences. They went to places like The Fountain of Youth, The Saint Augustine Beach and Splash Park, and a pumpkin patch. There was a water day celebration at the end of the school year that was a blast!
Without the caring staff of the FSDB Early Learning Center, none of these things would have been possible. This was a memorable year for sure.
If you are a parent of a Deaf, Hard of Hearing or Visually Impaired child, we highly recommend the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind! Parent involvement is highly accepted and appreciated. Thinking back, we cannot imagine our lives without the Florida School for the Deaf. This has definitely been a big part in our journey of seeing life differently. We hope that you, as parents, will have the same opportunity.
Seeing Life Differently,
Leanna and Brent
Click here for original blog posted at Seeing Life Differently (September 4, 2013).
Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB) is a fully accredited state public school and outreach center available tuition-free to eligible pre-K and K-12 deaf/hard of hearing and blind/visually impaired students. Comprehensive educational services at FSDB are individualized, specific to the unique communication and accessibility needs of each student for independence and lifelong success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. To visit the school or to learn more about eligibility for enrollment, contact 1-800-344-3732. For more information, visit www.fsdb.k12.fl.us.