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Building community, one gumdrop at a time

Event helps students with hearing loss and their families connect

Kent ISD — Case Addis, 3, paused to look at the different color candies as his sister, Sadie, 5, pulled a gingerbread house from its box.

He noticed that his mother had picked up the frosting packet and he immediately got excited.

“Do you want to do this?” Claire Addis asked.

“All by myself!” Case shouted as he took the packet from his mother.

It was the Kent ISD Oral Deaf Program’s gingerbread night, where families came together recently to have pizza and decorate the cookie houses.

“We have about 100 students who are in the program,” said teacher Jennie Carlson. “We try to do different events throughout the year to bring the students and the families together.”

Kent ISD offers both Auditory Oral Deaf and Total Communication programs as part of its Deaf and Hard of Hearing services. The Oral Deaf Program provides specialized instruction to develop skills in listening and spoken language. The Total Communication Program provides access and instruction in American Sign Language, spoken English, or a combination of both. 

Both programs are housed at Northview Public Schools.

Most students in the Kent ISD Oral Deaf Program at Northview’s North Oakview Elementary are in general ed classrooms. There also are two dedicated classes at the school, a preschool and an elementary, with about a dozen students. 

“Since many of the students are mainstreamed, nights like this are nice because it gives the students an opportunity to reconnect with teachers and other students from across the county,” Carlson said.

Getting to Know One Another

According to the Hearing Health Foundation, about three out of 1,000 children in the U.S. are born deaf or hard of hearing. 

“It is a small number,” said Todd Addis, Case’s father. “So you really don’t expect to find other families facing the same situation, much less a program like this in Kent County that brings families together.”

Most oral deaf programs are private, Carlson said. 

“We were really surprised, and lucky, to find out that this type of program existed 15 minutes from our house,” said Claire Addis, who is also the president of the program’s parent-teacher organization. 

“We joined the program just as the pandemic came so we really haven’t had a chance to meet the other parents and families,” she said. “I have seen people on screen, but for us, this is really the first time we have been able to meet people in person.”

Other Kids Like You

As his mother spoke, Case moved on from decorating to eating candies straight out of the bowl. Until someone entered the gym: Santa Claus had made his entrance.

And 5-year-old Silas Hossink was all about it.

“I went up again,” he said to his mother, Brooke, after a repeat visit with Santa. “Can we go again?”

Silas’ parents had canceled other plans just to attend the gingerbread house event. Having recently moved to Kent County, the family hoped to make connections with others. 

“When we came into the gym, I said to him ‘Look, there are other kids just like you,’” Brooke said. 

Many of the students in the program wore hearing implants, like Silas. “He just took it all in,” she said.

Across the gym, the Patterson family was finishing their gingerbread house.

“Do we need a doorbell?” asked mom, Jen, to 3-year-old Kaden. Both Kaden and his brother, Mason, 8, a third-grader at All Saints Academy, are in the Kent ISD Oral Deaf Program. 

“This is a way for us to connect with other parents and be with other parents who have similar disabilities,” Patterson said. “In the school, there are so few who are hard of hearing so it is nice to be with people who understand you and the challenges you face.”

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma covers Kent ISD and Godwin Heights. She was born in the Detroit area but grew up in Brighton where she attended Hartland Public Schools. The salutatorian for the Class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism and minored in photography and German. She expanded her color palette to include orange and black as both her daughters graduated from Byron Center Public Schools; maroon and white for Aquinas College where her daughter studies nursing and also brought back blue and maize for Grand Rapids Community College where her youngest daughter currently is studying music. Read Joanne's full bio

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