COEUR d’ALENE — Borah Elementary's lion pride has a new reason to be proud.
The school is the fifth location in the state, and the first in North Idaho, to offer a Total Communication preschool classroom that will serve deaf and hard-of-hearing children as they prepare for their educational futures. The preschool opens at the start of the 2017-18 school year.
"When I started the outreach position five years ago, one hope we had was to open up a preschool here in North Idaho," said Cortney Peters, who has been selected to teach the preschool. "I am very excited to be teaching these kiddos to provide a foundation for language and literacy for all children with hearing loss that attend the IESDB (Idaho Educational Services for the Deaf and the Blind) preschool."
Peters, an outreach/preschool teacher for the deaf and hard of hearing through IESDB, will be using "Total Communication" in her instruction. This style incorporates all means of communication, including formal signs, natural gestures, body language, lip reading and American Sign Language.
"Ninety percent of all deaf kids are born to hearing parents," said IESDB administrator Brian Darcy. "Kids who need to learn sign language have no model to learn that because their parents don't know it. They're learning it too."
Darcy said a big focus of this preschool program is to build a strong language base for these students.
"Preschool is all about the foundation," Darcy said. "Unless you have the language to put to those experiences, they don't carry as much meaning. We're big into preparing kids and giving them that strong language to move forward."
The Total Communication program is provided through the Coeur d'Alene School District and IESDB. It was approved two years ago, Darcy said, but they weren't able to find the right instructor in time to open last year.
"We jumped on it and we finally found somebody good and somebody who qualifies, so we were able to offer it this coming year," he said.
The program is four days a week and is free and open to deaf or hard-of-hearing children in any North Idaho county.
"They can enroll at any time," Darcy said. "If a kid turns 3 on Oct. 15, we're already talking about getting them enrolled Oct. 16. We don't want to waste those four or five months of them sitting at home."
Although cost estimates were not available to The Press on Tuesday afternoon, IESDB outreach director Paula Mason said this program is made possible because of the efforts of special education directors in North Idaho as well as the support from the Idaho State Department of Special Education. A $16,000 gift from the Coeur d'Alene Eagles also helped it get off the ground.
"The partnership with the Coeur d'Alene School District is a huge cost share because they're giving us the opportunity to have a classroom in their district," Mason said.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place at the school today at 3 p.m. followed by a Borah community open house.
“I think it will be a wonderful addition," Borah principal Kristina Davenport said of the Total Communication preschool. "We look forward to having those students be a part of our community.”
Darcy said everyone involved in making the preschool a reality really believes in the program and how it will help deaf and hard of hearing children as they transition into elementary school.
"Let's face it, we're dealing with the cutest of the cute," he said. "The wonderment in their eyes and how they soak up everything you can give them, you know it's going to pay off."