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A School That's Making A Difference

"Every day a miracle" is the slogan of this small Montessori school.  

Thursday November 10, 2016,

6 min Read

I believe there's a higher reason for certain events that happen in our lives.

You never know why at the time. But in hindsight, sometimes, you can step back and realize the gifts from each situation -- despite the challenges. I've also learned that when you give, you get back so much more . That's what happened to me many years ago when I discovered A.G. Bell Montessori School. You can find them at www.agbms.org.

The school is a unique private school, the only Montessori School in our nation that mainstreams deaf and hearing children through a little-known method called Cued Speech. At A.G. Bell, everyone excels, often surpassing everyone's expectations. That's why their slogan is, "Every day a miracle." Miracles DO happen at A.G. Bell!

My encounter with this school about twenty years ago. I was donating my poetry writing services for my temple's fundraiser. A lovely woman named Mary Ann Lachman chose my services, and asked me to write a poem for her son, Ben's Bar-Mitzvah. 

"Tell me about your son," I said casually. "So I'll know more about him."  Without hesitating, Mary Ann said, "I'm very proud of him because he is speaking in both English and Hebrew at his Bar-Mitzvah, and he's totally deaf!" She paused, letting the shock value of her words sink into my mind.

 "What?" I asked incredulously. I never knew this feat could be possible.  

I don't remember how long we talked, but the conversation was fascinating. At the conclusion, I asked her if I could visit the school in the near future, and she enthusiastically said, "Of course!"

While everyone loved the poem I wrote for Ben's Bar-Mitzvah, the real gift to me was being able to learn about A.G. Bell Montessori and the impact of Cued Speech. I learned that Dr. R. Orin Cornett of Gallaudet University recognized that his deaf college students had poor literacy. They functioned at a 3rd-4th grade average literacy for their entire lives! The reason was because while Sign Language is a perfect mode of communication for deaf to deaf conversation, it does not convey the same grammar, sentence structure or vocabulary as spoken language. 

Determined to improve literacy among his deaf students, Dr. Cornett created a system where all the phonemes of speech could be communicated visually. He wanted to clarify lip-reading, so sounds that look the same on the lips could be represented different on the hand. Eight simple handshapes represented all consonants and four positions around the mouth represented all vowels. 

Cued Speech allowed students to speak or mouth the English words (or words from any language) and simultaneously use the hand shapes and positions to express themselves. Likewise, a hearing person could speak in their own native language, and use Cued Speech to mirror their exact words. Cued Speech was also easy to learn. People could learn the basics in a few days or a week, compared to the years needed to master Sign Language.

Mary Ann and her husband Ron started this school because after discovering Cued Speech for their son Ben, they wanted to share this communication method with others. They found a teacher who taught their son, and soon the whole family was easily communicating through Cued Speech. Soon, other families heard about Cued Speech, and when they saw what it could do for their children, they got excited. Some people even moved to Illinois from other states because there was nothing like it!

As time went on, I discovered that some people in the deaf culture resented Cued Speech. It seemed Cued Speech was caught between two ways of thinking, and wasn't appreciated for its great value. (That is slowly changing now, due to extensive outside research.) 

Still , there are those who only advocate for Sign Language for their deaf children. They may feel pushed to be oral while doing Cued Speech, and these people feel threatened by the idea of abandoning their deaf culture. Even though Cued Speech uses handshapes, these people feel Cued Speech is too oral.

 On the other hand, some physicians who recommended cochlear implants for children feel that Cued Speech looks too much like Sign Language. As a result, they stay away. They don't take the time to learn its proven benefits.

A.G. Bell, one little school, knew that Cued Speech could be valuable to both the Sign Language and cochlear implant groups. As their Board President, Sandy Mosetick later told me, "If your deaf child is going swimming or a room is very loud, you can't rely on hearing aids or a cochlear implant." She also wanted to use the same words to her daughter Rachel that she was speaking. Just like Ben, Rachel achieved high literacy and academic skills through Cued Speech. She later mastered Sign Language      and had cochlear implant surgery. No matter how Rachel chose to communicate, she could always use Cued Speech as a way to communicate easily with family. Thanks to Cued Speech, she could also lipread more easily.

This amazing school is like the train from "The Little Engine That Could." They keep chugging away, overcoming challenges: the lack of awareness about Cued Speech, the biases still lingering in the deaf community, the inadequate funding support. Yet their unswerving commitment to help families with children, both deaf and hearing, continues making a difference to so many families. 

Their next goal? To make Cued Speech accessible to everyone across the world! The school just started an online site to train everyone -- young and old -- how to learn Cued Speech. It's called, "Cue College."  (See: www.cuecollege.org.)  

Funding is needed to complete the Cue College website. The site will bring so many benefits to children, families and adults. Families with deaf children will have immediate access to learning how to easily communicate with their own child. Even children with implants will be able to benefit. It's not always easy to hear someone in a crowded, noisy room. Using Cued Speech makes all the difference.

Although this school doesn't have a budget for me to promote them, they still remain in my heart. I want to share my story about AGBMS because I believe it can make a difference in helping more children. Ultimately, somewhere, someone will read this and think -- "I know a child who can benefit from that school." (Special needs children also do amazingly well through Cued Speech.) Or someone may think, "I want to help donate to this worthy cause." Or at the very least, someone might read this and share its news to others who will experience a miracle by bringing their child to this school. 

We all make a difference in someone's life. It's up to us to decide what kind of difference we want to make. My joy is telling positive stories like this to spread seeds of hope, inspiration and transformation. If you know someone who can benefit from knowing about this miracle school, please share this news with them. Tell them about the school. Even though sweet Mary Ann passed away too soon, her legacy lives on. I know she would thank you for keeping her school in your heart.