Not many schools can tout numbers like these about their students: 100 percent high school graduation rate, more than 66 percent alumni college graduation rate, and 85 percent employment and independent living rate.
Northwest School for Hearing-Impaired Children (NWSFHIC), located in Shoreline, is proud of those statistics, which are well ahead of national averages, considering a 2001 study which found only 30 percent of all young adults who were deaf or hard of hearing received college degrees, 63 percent were employed, and 42 percent lived on their own.
NWSFHIC contracts with 22 school districts throughout the greater Puget Sound area to provide free education and transportation to 40 qualifying students with educationally significant hearing loss in preschool through eighth grade.
"Our school is the only school in the country at which teachers and students, preschool through eighth grade, communicate with speech and Signing Exact English," Dr. Barbara Luetke, Outreach and Literacy Coordinator at NWFHIC, wrote in an email interview.
Why do students at NWSFHIC overachieve?
From its beginning in 1982, the school’s curriculum has been based on the textbook Teaching the Hearing-Impaired Through Total Communication, authored by the school’s co-founders Karen Appelman and Judy Callahan, teachers of the deaf who met while working in the public school system.
The program focuses on spoken communication paired with simultaneous Signing Exact English (S.E.E.), in which the speaker signs every important part of each word (known as the morphemes), using grammatically correct English.
To encourage students to speak in complete sentences, all communication from teachers to children at NWSFHIC is spoken and signed concurrently.
"S.E.E. helps children make sense of the auditory input provided by their cochlear implants or hearing aids. If they can’t hear certain words or parts of words, we supply them with S.E.E. signs so that grammatically correct English is developed for academics and social communication," explained Dr. Luetke, who is the mother of two grown deaf daughters who were raised on the S.E.E. method.
One daughter is a senior at the University of North Texas; the other holds a master’s degree and recently started her first job.
The school’s staff works with parents and school district teams to create Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs) and monitors each student to determine when he/she no longer requires the school’s intensive specially designed instruction and is prepared to return to their home school general education program.
When students graduate at the end of eighth grade, they have several options for the remainder of their K-12 education.
They can return to their local public school, attend a private school, or enter Edmonds Woodway High School’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program.
The high school currently serves 60 students from 18 different school districts in the region.
Woodinville sisters Erika and Alicia Teasley can attest to NWSFHIC’s impact. Both sisters graduated from the school and moved on to the Edmonds Woodway program where Erika graduated last year and Alicia is currently attending.
"Being a student at NWSFHIC has impacted my life in so many ways. The biggest impact I would say would be the ability to read, speak and write proper English," Alicia wrote in an email interview.
She gives them credit for giving her a passion and drive for education. The 16-year-old wants to study medicine and become an ER doctor.
"There are many skills I take with me as I continue the journey of life but the most important skills the teachers gave me were to never give up, to always challenge myself, to advocate for myself, to have confidence in myself, and probably the most important, to pursue any dream I ever dreamed of and will dream of," she wrote.
Like her younger sister, Erika has set high goals for herself.
She is a freshman at the University of Washington in Seattle where she plans to study biomedical engineering and possibly pursue a minor or double major in computer science.
She credits NWSFHIC for instilling within her the capability to take mainstream classes and to challenge herself however she wants.
"NWSFHIC sent me off with three most important skills that I have succeeded so far which are to always seek the best possible education, advocate for myself, and challenge myself in a confident way," Erika wrote in an email.
She took advanced courses throughout high school, and she even took French.
"I took French because I have always wanted to take it and I saw it as a double challenge as I am deaf and would have a harder time speaking the language and learning the written part," she wrote, adding, "I have taken various classes because in some way, they (NWSFHIC) have shown me that it doesn’t matter if I am deaf, it only matters if I am willing to take on the challenge and face it with hard work and determination."
Approximately 15 percent of U.S. children six to 19 years of age have hearing loss of at least 16 decibels in one or both ears according to a 1998 study published in Journal of the American Medical Association.
Call the school at (206) 364-4605 to schedule a personal tour and receive an information packet available in English or Spanish.
Parents with infants, toddlers or preschoolers with hearing loss are encouraged to meet each other and school staff at the monthly Friday night movie/game nights and Saturday playgroups.
More information about NWSFHIC is available on the school website at www.northwestschool.com.