Back from brink of closure, School for Deaf looks to expand


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Back from brink of closure, School for Deaf looks to expand -, Salem, MA

Sitting in a wheelchair in front of a computer screen, 6-year-old Christina Fasanelli moved her head slightly and stared at the Disney princess icon.

Christina has extreme hearing loss, physical and learning disabilities, limited mobility, and is unable to speak, but she had no problem telling her speech pathologist and occupational therapist she wanted to play with stickers and other crafts involving princesses.

The computer program allows her to use her eyes as a sort of mouse, so that she can pick games and activities by simply staring at objects on the screen.

"She was kind of locked inside herself before she got this," said Sue Gabriel, development director at the Beverly School for the Deaf.

The new, cutting-edge technology goes hand in hand with a plan to open a new Beverly School for Communications for kids like Christina who have special needs in addition to deafness or hearing loss.

Executive Director Mark Carlson said he wants to build a new academic building for the school on the seven-acre campus and is working with architects and engineers to determine the financial feasibility. The school will embark on a capital campaign later this year to pay for what Carlson estimates will cost "millions and millions of dollars."

In January, tuition rose from $40,000 to $58,000 a year to cover costs, like additional specialists on staff, that the state doesn't fund. The number of staff and students is on the rise and also cramped in the only academic building, he said.

"Anybody that doesn't work with the students directly is in a trailer so we can free up any corner of classroom space here," said Gabriel, who has an office in one of the two modular buildings adjacent to the academic building.

Enrollment is expected to double in the next couple of years, making the need for a new building a priority, Carlson said.

When Carlson took over as executive director in 2004, Beverly School for the Deaf was on the brink of closing. There were 23 students on campus — an all-time low — and two families in the school's parent infant/toddler program, which starts teaching children sign language almost from birth.

"We've adapted and looked at the community's needs," Carlson said. The school expanded its mission to include children with other communication disorders besides deafness and began promoting its parent infant/toddler program. Now, there are 43 students on campus, 40 students who get special help from the staff in public schools north of Boston and 45 families in the infant/toddler program. Many of those children will probably start preschool at either Beverly School for the Deaf or Beverly School for Communications, which will open in the fall.

Although construction of a new building is still a few years away, the reorganization will begin almost immediately. Despite space constraints, all students will be taught in the same building, as they are now, but will be separated into different classes.

Those whose primary issue is deafness will attend Beverly School for the Deaf. The School for Communications will take students with verbal and cognitive special needs who also have hearing loss and would benefit from sign language and visual communication.

"We do a lot more than just deaf," Gabriel said.

Eventually, both schools will become part of an umbrella organization, which hasn't been named yet. The school is also working with students from Montserrat College of Art to design a new logo, image and marketing strategy that will take them into the future.

"We've got the potential," Carlson said. "We're on the right track."


Parent infant/toddler program

2004 2008

2 families 45 families

Campus enrollment

2004 2008

23 students 43 students

Deaf faculty

2004 2008

1 9

Consulting and mainstream support in public schools

2004 2008

No program Service to 40 students

Sign language classes for the community

2004 2008

12/year 20/year