‘The Deaf Kid Who Played Rock ‘N’ Roll’

17 03 2009


His music lives on and sustains a grieving father


Dan Berube performs“The Other Side,” a song composed by his late son, Derek

Dan Berube performs“The Other Side,” a song composed by his late son, Derek

Stonington, CT – As he struggled with Crohn’s disease and a serious eye injury, 24-year-old Derek Berube would sit in the backyard of his parents’ Greenhaven Road home and talk to his father, Dan, for hours.
They talked about the things they loved: restoring old muscle cars, playing their guitars and, always, the lyrics and music of Bob Dylan.
”We talked about everything. I remember every word of those conversations like they were yesterday,” Dan Berube said last week as he looked across to the spot in the snow-covered yard where they used to sit on the grass during the spring of 2007.
Derek was profoundly deaf but could communicate with the help of hearing aids and by reading lips. He told his father about the things he still wanted to do – renovate his mother’s kitchen, repaint the engine compartment of the red 1970 Chevy Nova he had restored and build his dream car, a silver 1967 Shelby Cobra with a 427-cubic-inch engine.
But most importantly, Derek wanted to record the poignant but often angry songs he had written as he battled temporary blindness, the return of his Crohn’s disease, and an insurance company that refused to pay his workers’ compensation claim, draining his savings.
”I just want people to hear my music,” he’d tell his father.
THE OTHER SIDEPicking out dented cans at the grocery store
Haven’t even got a stove to cook on
Got paper in my wallet but it isn’t green
I won’t bother going to the atm machine
But everything is alright.
Heading out for life on the other side
having no problems kissin things goodbye
Starting to feel good and I don’t know why
Just gottah say the hell with it sometime
And just head for that life on the other side

– Lyrics by Derek Berube

Video in link: http://www.theday.com/re.aspx?re=f0dc661e-2394-45ba-af80-268f441b5282

That dream appeared to end on June 5, 2007, when Dan, who had not heard any music that morning from Derek’s bedroom above the garage, climbed the stairs to check on his son. It was in that room, where just about every day they had played “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” and where Derek had created his music, that Dan found his son dead from an overdose of prescription medication.

In the days after Derek’s death, Dan read the e-mails his son had sent to his friends about wanting to record his songs.

”When he was feeling better we’d talk about going to a studio and doing it, but unfortunately he didn’t make it. So now his wish is in my hands,” Dan said. “I told my brother-in-law, ‘Don’t let me let go of this dream.’ “

So last July, a little more than a year after his son’s death, Dan was at In Phaze Audio in Griswold recording “Stuck in the Middle,” the first of four songs he has recorded for what will be a 12-song CD.

”Derek would have loved to have been there. Who knows? Maybe he was,” Dan said.

Father passed on love of music

Derek was Dan and Eileen Berube’s middle son, in between Kevin, now 31, and the aptly named Dylan, who is a decade younger.

Unlike his two brothers, Derek would sit back and absorb things, but he “expressed his feelings about everything” to his father.

”He wanted to be like me, which is why we had a different closeness than I have with my other two sons. When Derek died, it was like my motivation went away,” said Dan, who is 57 and has been retired for a few years after working for the former Ortronics company in Pawcatuck.

After Derek’s death, Dan found his son had kept a meticulous computer log of all the money his parents had spent on him while he was sick, right down to the cost of cans of Boost he drank to keep up his strength.

”If you did something nice for Derek, he’d do something for you. That’s how he was with everybody. He was just a caring and giving kid,” Dan said.

Derek was a close friend of Pete Logan, who lived down the street and died nine weeks before Derek after battling cystic fibrosis his whole life. Pete Logan was just 21. Dan and Pete’s father are longtime friends.

Dan came from a musical family and has played guitar and drums since he was 13, so it was a given that his sons would, too. He also passed on his love of Bob Dylan, whose profound lyrics captivated him as a teenager in the ’60s.

”Derek grew up listening to Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. Even though he also listened to Bush, Green Day and Nirvana, he used to say he was born into the wrong generation,” said Dan, who wears his son’s peace-sign necklace. “He was my inspiration, and I think I was his.”

When Derek was 10, Dan bought him his first guitar. It wasn’t long before Derek began learning Dylan songs. He quickly surpassed his father’s playing ability and, when Derek was 16, Dan began sneaking him into local clubs to play and listen.

Dan, his sons and other musicians would spend hours jamming and playing pool in the room above the garage that later became Derek’s bedroom and makeshift studio. Always with Derek was his loyal sidekick, Copper, his 12-year-old basset hound, who also wears a peace sign.

Today the room is much as it was on the day Derek died. Six guitars, a drum set, four amplifiers and PA system are arranged on one side. Light streams from skylights. A music stand holds a thick notebook opened to Derek’s songs. The computer that holds numerous videos of Derek singing sits on a desk. Posters of Bob Dylan adorn the walls and are now joined by photos of Derek working on cars and playing guitar.

Last week Dan pulled out a metal box. Among the items inside were several handwritten pages in which Derek had listed each of the songs he knew how to play, including 40 by Dylan, the date he learned them and what guitar he had used. Also inside are the strings that were on Derek’s guitar on the last day he informally recorded his songs at home.

He wrote ‘songs from the soul’

Derek’s hearing began to worsen when he was 13, leaving him with just a small fraction of normal hearing. He compensated by wearing digital hearing aids, learning to lip-read and using more amplifiers.

He graduated in 2001 from the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, where he lived on weekdays. There, he played in the stairwells because that amplified his music. Dan laughed over the recollection of the day his son got into trouble because neighbors complained he was playing his music too loud at a school where few people could hear it.

“He called himself ‘the deaf guy who plays rock ‘n’ roll,’ “ Dan said. “But I never thought of him as a guy, so I changed it to ‘kid.’ “

In 2005, Derek was working as an apprentice sailmaker at Halsey-Lidgard Sailmakers in Old Mystic when a sail tack struck his left eye. Two surgeries followed but could only partially restore his sight, which he needed to read lips. Because of the surgery, doctors stopped the medication Derek took to control his Crohn’s disease. The Crohn’s returned and surgeons had to remove a portion of his small intestine and bowel and perform a temporary ileostomy, which brings intestinal waste into an external pouch.

Crohn’s is an incurable disease of the digestive system that causes diarrhea, weight loss, abdominal pain, vomiting and other symptons.

Derek became depressed as the insurance company handling his workers’ compensation claim refused to pay until ordered by the state Workers Compensation Commission. That did not happen until two days after Derek died.

” ‘Dad, I can’t do this anymore.’ I used to hear that a lot,” Dan said.

It was during this ordeal that Derek began to write his own songs.

”He felt like the world was against him. He was 23 years old and he had to go through more (stuff) than most people go through in their while lives. That’s what he wrote about,” Dan said. “They’re not the happiest songs in the world, but they’re songs from the soul.”

In “Stuck in the Middle,” Derek sings:

Stuck in the middle of a downpour

I’m going inside and closing the doors

Call me if the storm ever blows over

If not, I’ll see you in the next lifetime

Some days Derek would be too sick to play. But on those days when he heard his son’s music blasting from the bedroom, Dan knew Derek was having a good day.

”He would come up here and take his life experiences and put it to music,” Dan said.

Videos help father remember

One day last week, as he does most days, Dan climbed the stairs to Derek’s room, flipped on the amplifier and sat down on a stool in front of Derek’s notebook of songs.


He picked up one of the guitars and began to sing “The Game of Life.” His rough, cigarette-tinged voice and aggressive playing gave an edge to his son’s sometimes painful lyrics.

I’ve got a lot of problems and I’m on the run.

I always end up with an IV in my arm.

And now the good doc said that everything will be alright

And if it makes you feel any better, my boat just sank.

… I’m living in a hood that you never understood

Dan said his son wrote these lyrics based on a comment from one of Derek’s doctors.

Dan’s quest has been helped by the fact that Derek made videos of himself playing his songs. Dan studies them to figure out how to play the music. One was done just two days before Derek died.

In another, recorded in early 2007, the slightly built Derek appears wearing a gray T-shirt and sits down in front of his music stand. A small light illuminates the pages in the darkened room and the side of his face.

He begins to sing, his words slightly slurred because of his deafness. Dan’s eyes never leave the screen as he softly sings along.

”I’m so fortunate to have these,” he said. “You can’t imagine what this stuff means to me.”

As Derek sings, Copper begins to whine, which Dan said often happens when the dog hears Derek’s voice on the computer.

”Some days I can come up here and listen with no problem. Other days I have to shut it off because I can’t see the screen,” he said.

Both Dan and Eileen say they still have what they call “Derek Days” when they miss their son even more than usual.

”When Dan gets down about it he comes up here and listens to Derek’s music. I mostly just cry,” Eileen said. “He was just a beautiful kid with a beautiful soul.”

While Dan and Derek used to constantly quote Dylan’s lyrics, Dan now finds himself quoting his son’s songs. “All In a Day” is one of his favorites.

Woke up this morning

Looked at the clock

It didn’t feel like seven to me

Got my ass out of bed

shook off my head

OK let’s do this again


”We all can relate to that,” Dan said. “I just love his music. It’s what made him happy, and it’s what makes me happy.”

Stonington, CT

Q&A: UFC fighter Matt Hamill

9 03 2009

Matt “The Hammer” Hamill, 32, a native of Loveland, Ohio, is billed just below the main event at UFC 96, the mixed-martial arts fight card in Nationwide Arena tonight. Hamill was a three-time Division III national champion when he wrestled for Rochester Institute of Technology. He won a silver medal in Greco-Roman wrestling and a gold in freestyle at the 2001 Deaflympics. Hamill is a veteran of the reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter. He owns a 7-2 record in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. Hamill, a low-budget movie about his life, is soon to be released.

UFC fighter Matt Hamill of Cincinnati will take a 7-2 record into a fight against Mark Munoz tonight in Nationwide Arena.

UFC fighter Matt Hamill of Cincinnati will take a 7-2 record into a fight against Mark Munoz tonight in Nationwide Arena.


Question: Have you been deaf your whole life?

Answer: Yes. I found out when I was just a little kid and my mother was trying to communicate with me. “Matt, Matt,” she would say, and there was no response. The took me to the doctor and they did tests. I can’t hear anything. Nothing. I am totally deaf. I have been since birth.

Q: Did you go to a school for the deaf when you were young?

A : No. I had an interpreter. Whatever the teacher said, the interpreter signed to me. If I went to a deaf school, it would not have been as much of a challenge. But I am more comfortable in the deaf community. I am not uncomfortable outside of it, but I am more comfortable in it. That is just my style.

Q: When did you start wrestling?

A: When I was 4 or 5 years old. My stepdad was the coach at Loveland (High School). Wrestling kept me busy. It kept me out of trouble. It was something that didn’t need much communication. It liked it because it was physical. It was rough. It was something I really enjoyed.

Q: You managed to take your wrestling as far as you could, didn’t you?

A: As a true freshman, I went to Purdue on a full scholarship. My goal was to be a national champion in Division I. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it there, so I transferred to RIT — in an area where there is a very large deaf community. It was a great experience there.

Q: Your stepfather got you into wrestling, which is one thing. Does your mother approve of ultimate fighting?

A: She looks at me and I’m happy. When I’m happy, she’s happy. She supports me in whatever I do.

Q: Was this what you wanted to do when you graduated college?

A: No. I hadn’t even thought about it. I had a degree in electrical engineering and I thought I’d get a good job somewhere in Utica (N.Y.), to be near my daughter. I met my ex-wife at RIT, and she lives in Utica. Somehow, I got on a different path.

Q: How excited are you to have a big fight in Ohio?

A: I was supposed to take another fight in Montreal. Montreal or Ohio? That was the question. I’m an Ohioan. I wanted to fight in Ohio where I’m close to my friends and my family and my fans. Two years ago at UFC 68 (in Nationwide Arena), I beat Rex Holman and I never felt a vibration like that in my career. It’s my home state, more deaf people are coming — and I can’t wait to feel the vibration. That’s how I get my heart in the fight. That’s why I came here. The vibration.

Dogs to take centre stage at Blenheim Horse Trials

5 03 2009
March 4, 2009
Pooches can look forward to some fun at the Blenheim Horse Trials this year.
The Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials is going to the dogs this year, with a canine competition in the offing and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People the nominated charity.Organisers are looking at the possibility of hosting a ‘Scrufts’ qualifier for the kennel club, and has James Wellbeloved once again sponsoring the dog creche and canine water bowls.

“Many of our visitors have dogs,” said event director Mandy Hervieu. “So getting canine-orientated sponsors and charities involved appeals to our public. When you see a Hearing Dogs display and see how they can train all types of dogs to help radically improve a deaf person’s life, you will be amazed. Having a dog creche and water bowls is much appreciated by dog owners. It’s great to be able to come to a top quality horse trials and bring your best friend for a great day out.”

The event, from September 10-13, is also putting on an extra CIC3* class for eight and nine-year-old equine stars of the future.

The horse trials is supporting Hearing Dogs in several ways. The Charity will be undertaking displays within the Blenheim Attractions Arena and manning the James Wellbeloved dog creche where the team hope owners will make a donation to leave their pooch to have a rest whilst they have lunch or watch the action from the grandstands.

“A hearing dog changes a deaf person’s life on many levels,” said Ruth Dunkin, spokeswoman for Hearing Dogs. “Deafness can be a very isolating and lonely disability; a hearing dog can offer a practical alternative to technical equipment with the added benefit of giving the recipient increased independence, greater confidence, companionship and a feeling of security.”

The dogs themselves vary from the largest, scruffiest mongrel to the smallest pedigree but are all easily recognisable by their distinctive burgundy jacket and lead slips.

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People was launched at Crufts in 1982. To date they have placed more than 1500 hearing dogs throughout England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands. Whenever possible, the dogs are selected from rescue centres, but they are also donated by breeders and members of the public, with the remainder coming from the Charity’s own breeding scheme.

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People receive no government funding and rely totally on the generosity of individuals and organisations to continue transforming the lives of deaf people.

Of the nine million people in the UK with hearing loss, around 70,000 have been profoundly deaf since birth and communicate using British Sign Language. Many of those who have lost their hearing in later life rely on lip-reading. A hearing dog’s burgundy coat can help break down the barrier to communication as it identifies its recipient’s otherwise invisible disability.


New generation of tactile devices to aid the deaf

3 03 2009

by Rich Bowden – Mar 2 2009

Img: Tactile deaf aid device being used by Senior Research Scientist Charlotte Reed and research graduate student Theodore Moallem. Credit: Donna Coveney/MIT

Img: Tactile deaf aid device being used by Senior Research Scientist Charlotte Reed and research graduate student Theodore Moallem. Credit: Donna Coveney/MIT


Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States are developing a device which can translate sound waves as vibrations able to be felt by the skin.



The technology will aid deaf people who currently rely on the imperfect lip reading as a means of communication. The tactile device is being worked on by the institute for those who are unable to afford the often prohibitive cost of cochlear implants.

“Most deaf people will not have access to that technology in our lifetime,” said Ted Moallem, a graduate student working on the project in a Feb. 27 Institute statement. “Tactile devices can be several orders of magnitude cheaper than cochlear implants.”

According to the MIT news release: Moallem and Charlotte Reed, senior research scientist in MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics and leader of the project, say the tactile software they are developing could be compatible with current smart phones, allowing such devices to be transformed into unobtrusive tactile aids for the deaf.

“Anyone who has a smart phone already has much of what they would need to run the program,” including a microphone, digital signal-processing capability, and a rudimentary vibration system , says Moallem.



Though tactile devices have been in use for decades, the team hope to improve on these by providing deaf people with tactile cues that are tailored to boost lip-reading performance, says Reed.

The inspiration for the project came from the Tadoma technique, where deaf/blind people hold their hands to someone’s face while they talk to “feel” vibrations. The technique allows deaf/blind people to understand what is being spoken, so long as the person spoke clearly.

“We were inspired by seeing what deaf-blind people could accomplish just using the sense of touch alone,” says Reed.

Funding for the project was provided by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

We need to yell

3 03 2009

Deaf school supports call for maintaining current state funding

By Vicky Wicks
For The Weekly News

Posted 3/2/09

Two advocates for deaf and hearing-impaired students met with concerned Rapid City people to pitch a plan for maintaining services currently provided by the South Dakota School for the Deaf in Sioux Falls.

Magnet schools are existing schools modified to add services for the deaf, Olsen said. If that approach isn’t taken, then deaf students will be scattered around the state in public schools not equipped to receive them.

Small schools will bear great expense hiring interpreters for just one or two students, and those students will be isolated if there are no other hearing impaired students, he said.

Olsen is pushing for the state Department of Education to take control of the School for the Deaf. Currently it’s under the aegis of the Board of Regents, which he said doesn’t understand that the deaf are bilingual ��” using ASL and English ��” as well as bicultural.

The Legislature should establish a commission on Education for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and a bill of rights for deaf children, Olsen said.

Puthoff said the school was established in 1880, nine years before South Dakota became a state.

The South Dakota Constitution provides for continuation and funding of a school for the deaf, Olsen said, and he doesn’t understand how the state can close the school without changing the Constitution.

“We need to wake up. We need to yell. We need to complain,” Olsen said.

Larry Puthoff, left, speaks about education for the deaf while Gary Olsen looks on. Puthoff and Olsen are advocates and lobbyists with the South Dakota Association for the Deaf

Larry Puthoff, left, speaks about education for the deaf while Gary Olsen looks on. Puthoff and Olsen are advocates and lobbyists with the South Dakota Association for the Deaf

The school is on Gov. Mike Rounds’ list of cuts to balance the state’s 2010 budget.

Using American Sign Language, with interpreters for those few people in the audience needing them, Gary Olsen and Larry Puthoff with the South Dakota Association for the Deaf said that if the school closes, magnet schools should be created in or near Sioux Falls, Rapid City, and Pierre.

The two men, both retired from careers in education, gave their presentation at Communication Services for the Deaf on Tuesday, Feb. 17.

Teri Brown relishes roles of author, mentor, tutor

27 02 2009

Tigard, Oregon—“I’m one of those really weird people,” Teri Brown explains. “In order to throw myself 100 percent into something, I have to believe in it, too. My husband calls this ‘impractical.’”

Impractical or not, Brown is dedicated to her beliefs. Among them: She is a strong believer in the powers of self-education and literacy.

“I basically have no education, at all,” Brown says.

Nevertheless, she taught herself enough to climb the ranks of the freelance writing and advertising world, where she has devoted years to interviewing some of the nation’s foremost parenting experts, writing articles for a variety of publications (including Community Newspapers) and publishing both nonfiction and fictional books.

“I truly believe that even if you can’t afford college or can’t afford higher education, you can still become self-educated. It may not matter as much when you go to apply for a job, but it sure matters for the quality of your life,” says Brown.

In September, Brown took a position at Community Partners for Affordable Housing, a nonprofit organization that provides safe, healthy and affordable housing, as well as support and skill building activities, for those with the greatest need in the Tigard-Tualatin area and Southwest Portland.

At Greenburg Oaks, the CPAH property where Brown works as the after-school program associate, or as she calls it, a “glorified tutor,” Brown combines her passions for literacy and self-education by helping kindergartners through junior high students with their homework and reading. Character building, crafts, making connections: All are included in a day’s tutoring.

“A lot of parents are really happy to have their kids go to a place where they have to do their homework,” Brown says.

Many of these parents, she says, are transitioning out of homelessness and see the after-school program as an invaluable resource.

Teri Brown recently started a book club for teens at Greenburg Oaks, an affordable housing property owned by Community Partners for Affordable Housing. An author herself, Brown is a literacy advocate who believes a limited income should never limit one’s ability to become self-educated.

Teri Brown recently started a book club for teens at Greenburg Oaks, an affordable housing property owned by Community Partners for Affordable Housing. An author herself, Brown is a literacy advocate who believes a limited income should never limit one’s ability to become self-educated.

Once a month, the group goes on a field trip to take in a cultural event. The community has donated tickets for everything from the ballet to the Blazers for the after-school program.

“We can take the kids out to things they might never do on their own,” Brown says.

Brown, who home-schooled her own two children up until high school, sees value in presenting kids with opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. This partly explains why, in addition to the tutoring she does for her job, she took on additional volunteer work at CPAH, forming and running a youth book club.

Brown knows a thing or two about young adult literature – in June, her debut novel “Read My Lips” was published. The book is about a young oral-deaf girl who uses her lip reading skills to get in with the popular crowd. Once she’s accepted there, the popular kids try to use her lip reading abilities to their advantage.

Brown’s mother-in-law was a deaf advocate on the board for the Alexander Graham Bell Association, and her husband’s niece uses hearing aids and lip reading to communicate. Although this inspired the story, Brown insists it’s a lighter read.

“It’s a fluffy, beach read type book,” she says. “I didn’t want it to be a deaf issues book because I’m not deaf. I can’t really get my arms around what it would be like. I just wanted to have a story that starred a deaf girl.”

For the book club, Brown has been leaning on her writer friends to get books donated. She follows an every-other-month schedule: One month features a local author who is able to attend the meeting and answer questions, and the next month features an out-of-state author who participates in the meetings from afar. Their last guest author answered questions via Podcast.

Brown’s goal is to obtain funding to buy books for the club, rather than always relying on donations. She often dips into her own pocket to make the meetings special: She likes to serve the students foods they may not normally be exposed to, like crackers with Brie cheese or fondue.

Brown, a native Oregonian who has lived in Tigard for the past 19 years, says her hobbies never stray far from her work: She loves to read, write and teach others, so that’s what she does with her time. She also mentors a young writer who is working on a senior project in Yamhill.

In addition to her novel, Brown has two works of nonfiction published: “Christian Unschooling: Growing Your Children in the Freedom of Christ” and “Day Tripping.” Her Web site is www.teribrownwrites.com.

On March 10, the book club will hold its next meeting, where author Heather Vogel Frederick will be on hand to visit and sign her book “The Mother-Daughter Book Club.”

“I’ve been able to do this, mostly because of the generosity of my writer friends from around the country,” Brown says of keeping the book club going.

She hopes the generosity will expand to the community and others will share her vision for passing the value of reading onto the youth of Greenburg Oaks.

School for the deaf helps students blossom

26 02 2009

Article published on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2009

Ivy Richardson of Largo, sits in her seventh-grade class at Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf in Clearwater.

CLEARWATER – Ivy Richardson came to Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf in Clearwater when she was 7. She could not spell her last name and was years behind her age group in school.

Ivy is deaf and had a hard time communicating and learning in a traditional classroom at Cross Bayou Elementary School in Pinellas Park. Now, as a seventh-grader, Ivy excels in math and loves to learn, said her mother, Stacy, of Largo.

Ivy was one of the school’s first students, and she attributes her academic success to the school. She grew up at Blossom, she signed.

Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf is one of two Montessori schools for deaf people in the United States and the only one in Florida, said Carol Downing, associate director of the school. The school is for kids ages 2 1/2 through 15 who are deaf, hard of hearing, those with cochlear implants or hearing kids who have a parent or sibling who is deaf.

“A lot of deaf schools have deaf students with hearing parents, which most of them have, but we bring in the CODAs (children of deaf adults,) the hard of hearing students, and we have kids with the cochlear implants because we know if it breaks, they’re deaf,” Downing said. “And the panic that can set in for a child who’s not ready to be deaf, everyone here is sensitive to that instead of being plunked down into a public school where no one understands the trauma of that child all of a sudden losing everything they’re dependent on, whether it’s a dead battery or a broken gizmo.”

Stacy first discovered her daughter was deaf when Ivy was about 2 years old, Stacy said. When she began public school, Stacy said Ivy felt extreme frustration because she couldn’t communicate or understand the lessons very well. Then she transferred to Blossom.

“I immediately noticed improvements in her academic progress, for here was a school that was equipped to handle her needs,” Stacy said. “Her needs include the use of effective communication, which for her is American Sign Language. I also firmly believe in the Montessori approach to teaching. Ivy’s language skills have improved immensely.”

The school was founded in 2003 by Julie Rutenberg, now director of the school. She had taken an American Sign Language interpretive

language course from Downing at St. Petersburg College and saw the need for a school when she did her contact hours with deaf kids in the public school system.

According to the Blossom literature, the Tampa Bay area is home of the fourth largest deaf concentration in the United States and 37 percent of children with minimal hearing fail at least one grade.

The teachers at Blossom all speak in both American Sign Language and spoken English. As a Montessori kid herself, Rutenberg realized the benefits deaf kids would get from the hands-on, tactile learning of the Montessori method.

In the Montessori classroom, words and concepts have physical objects that students can pick up and hold. Math is learned with beads – loose beads for 1 to 10, groups of 10 beads strung on a wire, 10 groups of 10 beads strung into a square, and 1,000 beads strung into a cube.

“If you’re deaf, then everything you learn is with your eyes,” said Maria Kadau, director of development at the school. “It’s very visual, so it’s good to enhance their visual senses with what they’re learning.”

The children up to age 6 are all in one classroom, then they go the 6- to 9-year-old classroom, then onto the 9- to 12-year-old classroom, and finally to the 12- to 15-year-old classroom. This way the younger students can learn from the older ones and the older students can help teach the younger students, Downing said. Sometimes kid speak – or kid signing – helps explain a difficult concept to a peer that finally makes it stick.

“We have the chance to let kids in the classroom feel empowered by teaching,” Downing said. “Instead of ‘Stop talking and turn around,’ it’s “I’ll give you 20 minutes with him to explain what you think that means and I’ll be back to check on you. And Ivy is really good in math, and she’s been instrumental in re-explaining something to her classmates. I’ve watched her in action and she comes up with some really funny examples and other students kind of go ‘Oh!’ and the teachers will go, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?'”

Classes have six to eight students in them, and there is lots of one-on-one time with teachers. Each day the children get a contract of what they must cover that day and then they decide when they want to learn that subject. This approach is used because kids’ brains learn different subjects better at different times of the day, Downing said, so the lessons are more effective when they are excited and ready to study that subject instead of being forced to do particular subjects at particular times.

“They make things interesting here,” Ivy signed. “Like math – you have to figure it out. And when you get frustrated, you don’t get upset. The teacher works with you one-on-one and makes you feel better about learning. I feel smarter all the time.”

Ivy said her teacher keeps her challenged and she feels a camaraderie with him because he is deaf, too. It’s wonderful that all the teachers teach in sign language so they do not have to rely on interpreters, she said. The teachers at Blossom make concepts stick, she said, and she is grateful she attends the school.

“I would be so bored (in public school,)” Ivy said, “because they don’t really have high expectations (of deaf kids) and things would be just baby easy. But at Blossom, it’s so much more challenging. I know it. And they just tell me I can be smarter and smarter and smarter.”

The hardest part of being deaf is just not being able to hear, Ivy said, and it is very hard to learn a language she has never heard. That is why it helps to learn with the Montessori method in which every word and concept has a tangible object, she said.

“When you write things down, it’s there (on the page,) but when you move things, you understand what they mean,” Ivy signed. “They have names and they’re objects and it’s related to the names, and then when you take the test and you have something you can remember. It sticks. You can pick it up and use it and put it back down and remember the name of it. And sometimes, if you think you’ve forgotten something, you can go back and remember the name of something because it is in your head. You’ve learned it with your hands, so it’s in your head.”

Ivy is full of ambition and wants to attend high school at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine and then go on to becoming either a veterinarian, nurse, scientist or an artist.

Ivy said the school has helped her family, too. There are monthly adult classes, and because of that, Ivy’s mom, grandmother and aunt have learned excellent sign language, which helps Ivy communicate with her family.

“I think this helps with respect,” Downing said. “Like Ivy’s mom – yeah, she has to learn sign language to talk to her daughter, but guess what? Her daughter has to learn English to talk to her. And as she said, it’s so hard when you can’t hear the language.”

The school also teaches social responsibility. For instance, starting in preschool, the kids decide when they want their snack, so they tell the teacher and then get their food themselves, take out a paper plate and napkin and then clean up after themselves. If they spill, they clean it up, and the students clean their own lunch room as well.

Children may enroll in the school at any age between 2 1/2 and 15 and at any time of the year, Downing said. Cost is $5,500 a year for preschool and $7,000 a year for the older students, although the actual cost is about $25,000 per year per child. As a nonprofit organization, the school relies on charitable contributions to fund the difference and other costs.