Students with hearing loss are supported to achieve their full potential at Sydney Catholic schools.
Not wanting to be marked as different, Aurora Matchett refused to wear the hearing aids she was fitted with while in Year 6 for the first six months of high school.
Now the Year 8 student at St Patrick’s College Sutherland has overcome her worries to thrive in Newman classes for academically gifted students. She has also been shortlisted from more than 600 applicants for one of 12 places on the 2017 NSW Youth Advisory Council, which helps to evaluate youth-related state government policies and legislation and advocate for young people from diverse backgrounds.
Aurora took part in a day of discussion and debating at Parliament House in November as part of the selection process for the role. “If successful I would bring my views on how the hearing impaired and deaf youth should be treated and on rights and responsibility in the healthcare system,” she said. “I feel like it [hearing loss] gives me a different perspective.”
Aurora is among more than 150 students from Kindergarten to Year 12 at Sydney Catholic schools with diagnosed hearing loss. This includes those with ‘monitor’ status who just miss out on qualifying for funding to help manage the condition and are still supported at school in line with the Disability Discrimination Act and Disability Standards for Education.
Specialist staff from Sydney Catholic School’s diverse learning team – including the southern region’s Leader of Learning: Hearing 4 to 12, Tracey Neate – liaise with audiologists, speech therapists, parents, oral interpreters, school psychologists and teachers, and source technology as needed to ensure students with hearing loss can access the curriculum and connect with their peers.
Teachers also have access to professional development through courses including an ‘Understanding Hearing Loss’ online training course delivered by Ms Neate and her colleagues and one run by the Royal Institute of Deaf and Blind Children. Both are accredited by the Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES).
Ms Neate said schools’ diverse learning and wellbeing teams worked together to support students with hearing loss. Fatigue and isolation are common side-effects of the condition that impact in both academic and social life.
“Feeling connected, being heard and being able to hear other people is so important for wellbeing,’ Ms Neate said. “If a student is not listening they are not going to be able to connect with their environment and with the people around them.
“Students with hearing loss will say to me ‘Most of my friends don’t understand me, they don’t know what it’s like’. Lessons can be draining for them because they have to try harder to hear and when you become fatigued you zone out. Often they are the only one in the classroom, so I do whatever I can to draw connections with other students with hearing loss so they know that they are not alone and they can achieve.”
View a Flintstone’s clip that outlines what a person with different levels of hearing loss actually hears below:
All Saints Catholic Senior College Casula Principal David Fetterplace hosted the first hearing peer mentor event to bring young people with hearing loss from Catholic schools in Sydney’s south together to share their experience in August. Mr Fetterplace received a cochlear implant this year.
College Vice Captain Dhaif Daief also has hearing loss and spoke about his time at school and how he would not treat his hearing loss as a barrier to becoming a paramedic when he graduates.
“Hearing loss doesn’t have to limit your achievements in life,” Mr Fetterplace said. “It can be overcome now if you’re willing to embrace the technology available. Programs like this are helping students be less self-conscious.”
Meeting with St Patrick’s 2015 Year 12 graduate Claire Long, another hearing impaired student who is now studying a Bachelor of Medical Science at the University of Sydney, convinced Aurora to get her audiogram validated.
An audiogram charts the results of a hearing test in terms of volume and pitch to help to determine the most suitable help for an individual. This could be a hearing aid, cochlear implant or other supportive device. Aurora now uses an FM system, a wireless device which picks up speech within a 10 metre area and broadcasts it directly to her hearing aid through a Bluetooth attachment.
“The teacher can wear it on their clothing or around their neck or you can place it in interview mode, and the sound comes into it and directly into my ear,” she said. “I feel if I wasn’t hearing impaired I would be a bit more confident in social situations and classroom activities. Getting support has given me a big confidence boost.”
The provisions put in place for hearing impaired students at St Mary’s Catholic Primary Georges Hall have had a positive effect on their peers too.
Visual aids and closed captions in audio visual material reinforce meaning in lessons. There are sound field systems in each classroom where students have hearing difficulties which clarify speech sounds from teachers, peers and multimedia equipment. The open-plan spaces that were built with flexible learning in mind have been modified to help minimise noise and maximise learning.
Principal Maureen Jones, who has hearing loss herself, said the diverse learning team bring passion and expertise to their role.
“When I went to Kindergarten there were 102 students in the class, and I think I taught myself to read. Catholic education has changed a lot in that time. Now if a child is having problems we get their eyes and ears tested first and try to find the resources that they need.”
Year 6 student Dante Delia has used an FM since Kindergarten and his oral language skills have improved dramatically over the past 12 months through speech therapy.
Dante will start high school at LaSalle Catholic College Bankstown next year and won a 2016 soccer grand final with his Enfield Rovers team. “The speakers help me, and the FM too, because when there’s a lot of noise going on I can hear through my hearing aids,” Dante said. “You can switch the volume and I hear it louder or softly when the teacher speaks.”
Ms Neate taught a whole-body listening program to Year 4 student Marcus Rassios’ class. Marcus’ favourite subject is Maths. He also plays soccer outside of school and uses an FM in class.
Whole body listening involves listening with eyes, ears, hands, heart, an alert brain, and a quiet mouth, while keeping a relaxed posture with feet on the ground and body facing the speaker. The approach is often used for children with listening or attention difficulties including autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“It’s a great tool for children with hearing loss,” Ms Neate said. “Because they‘ve had difficulty listening they haven’t necessarily learnt to listen. They’ve learnt to tune out, so they can have attention difficulties as well. We often focus a lot on expressive language – public speaking and talking – instead of the receptive language of listening and understanding, so it was of benefit to the whole class.”