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CLU gears up to train teachers to work with deaf and hard of hearing students

Goal is to train 48 new teachers
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Story Photo

Cynthia Hernandez, a Cal Lutheran University alumna who now trains teacher candidates at No Limits for Deaf Children, covers her mouth so that Brian Pinto Pacheco can't rely on lip-reading skills to understand her.

Photo: Photo by Brian Stethem

By Cheri Carlson
Posted December 26, 2011

Jeff Westendorf wants to be the kind of teacher on whom students and their parents can lean for support.

Now 26, he remembers how he felt when children laughed at him or a teacher ignored him.

Sometimes he would hear part of a class discussion. "I would chime in with my thoughts, and what I would say would not be anywhere near close to what the discussion was," said Westendorf, who was first fitted for a hearing aid as a toddler.

Other times he would just nod his head, pretending to understand but not having a clue.

Westendorf, of Thousand Oaks, is working toward a master's degree in education of the deaf and hard of hearing at California Lutheran University. The program recently received $1.2 million from the U.S. Education Department to help prepare 48 new teachers for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in California public schools.

Statewide, the number of students with hearing loss has gone up by 26 percent in the past six years, officials said. But the number of teachers trained to work with them has not kept pace.

"We don't have enough, and there are only six universities in the state of California" preparing teachers to work in the field, said Maura Martindale, head of CLU's special- education department.

Calling the grant "a tremendous help," Martindale said 80 percent of the funds will go to candidates in the program, helping them pay for tuition and books.

With more trained specialists, officials hope to see an increase in students' language and literacy skills.

"Almost everything related to learning to read is based in sound," Martindale said. "Children who learn English language well also learn to read well."

With the grant, officials hope to start closing an achievement gap between hearing students and those with hearing loss, especially those in Latino  families.

About half of the state's deaf and hard-of-hearing students are from Latino families. Those from Spanish-speaking homes sometimes need more help learning language and reading skills, the university reported.

With the grant, officials also hope to prepare more teachers to work in specialized settings such as new spoken-language programs designed for children with cochlear  implants.

Ventura County has about 200 students identified as deaf and hard of hearing — a number that has stayed fairly stable in recent years, said Mary Samples, who oversees special-education services for Ventura County children.

"The problem is it's a very specialized area," she said, and few programs prepare people to work in the field.

CLU's graduate program, based in its Woodland Hills center, has spaces for 12 candidates to start next summer. The grant will pay for a percentage of tuition, which regularly runs about $20,000. Exact figures are not yet available.

"We are very interested in attracting teacher candidates who are fluent in more than one language," Martindale said. "We also encourage people who have a hearing loss themselves."

Growing up, Westendorf had some great teachers and a few bad ones, he said, answering questions through email.

One teacher never faced him, even though he told her that lip reading helped him keep up. She seemed annoyed when he asked her to repeat things.

"I learned a lot from that. That's exactly the type of teacher I don't want to be and no one else should have," Westendorf  said.

He was a toddler when he failed a hearing screening. Hearing-aid fittings and lots of hard work followed.

"I became fluent in sign language and only knew a few words until I was about 5 or 6 years old," he said. "At that point I had to learn spoken language, and those days were tough. I had 12-hour days of doing word flash cards before school and after school."

After getting a bachelor's degree, he was considering CLU's graduate program in counseling when he heard about the deaf and hard-of-hearing program. "It was just one of those things where I knew it would be the perfect fit for me," he said.

Photo Gallery: CLU deaf program

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