The Unique Collaboration of Smith and the Clarke School
by Jan McCoy Ebbets
On a recent morning in October, daily routines are under way at the Clarke School for the Deaf. In a lower level classroom, Tara Noyes, new teacher and a 2001 Smith graduate with a master's in education, steps behind her 8- and 9-year-old charges as they sit on small wooden chairs arranged in a half-circle.
"I want to know what the day after tomorrow will be," Noyes says into the microphone she always wears in her classroom. Then she asks for the names of the months. Her five students, all of whom are deaf or hard of hearing, have full access to the sound of her voice through the receivers they wear. To respond to her questions they must rely on their own developing auditory and oral skills-and not on sign language or lip-reading. Meanwhile, they wiggle and squirm in their chairs, knowing Noyes waits for an answer.
Finally, 8-year-old Joey leans his head back, and with a shy grin names all 12 months. "Good job!" Noyes exclaims, and teacher and student exchange a high-five salute.
For Noyes these moments are gratifying. They affirm the decision she made in 2000 to enroll in the Smith College-Clarke School Graduate Teacher Education Program, a tough one-year master's program for aspiring teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing. When they complete the program, students are awarded the Smith degree of Master of Education of the Deaf (M.E.D.).
Now in its 113th year, this unique
program was the nation's first teacher preparation program for
those who wanted to work with deaf children. Today students from
all over the country compete for the 10 to 12 coveted spots available
each year in the Smith-Clarke program. Once they complete the
required 42 semester hours of course work and 400 hours of practi-cum,
they qualify for teaching certification.
Alan Marvelli, Smith professor of education and director of the Smith/Clarke collaborative program, calls it "extraordinary." The collaboration is the only program in the world in which a college and a school work together as one entity. "It's a new model on the educational scene in that it links an institution of higher education with a school and a practicum site," he says. The teacher-student ratio is also exemplary. "We have 10 people who are well-known experts in their fields, nearly all of them with Ph.D.'s," Marvelli adds.
"And these 10 people work with
M.E.D. candidates on a daily basis."
"Our first objective," says Marvelli, "is to make the graduate students recognize the critical role that language plays in communication. The second is to give them skills to help deaf children develop speech that they have never heard."
One of those deaf children is 16-year-old Sylvia "Katie" Black of Acworth, Georgia. In the five years she was a residential student at Clarke, she learned how to speak and understand the words she spoke, while preparing to move to a regular school with her hearing peers. When she graduated in June 2001, Black, who has been deaf since birth, thanked all her teachers in her oral commencement speech. "To all the blessed teachers, thank you for guiding me and my classmates at Clarke School," she said. "You have prepared us for opportunities that we would not have had otherwise."
Black entered a public high school in her home state of Georgia in fall 2001 and will finish her secondary education there.
Noyes fully recognizes Black's achievement. "Being a teacher at Clarke makes me proud-just to know that I am part of the process that gives these children the opportunity to lead happy, successful lives in a hearing world is enough for me."
Interestingly, when Noyes graduated from Union College with a degree in psychology and a minor in Spanish, she was headed for graduate school in psychology. But one visit to the Clarke campus was all it took for Noyes to change her mind.
"The realization (that I wanted
to be a teacher) was quite a surprise to me," she remembers,
"but I sat in on three or four classes, and I talked to
Clarke teachers, and I was really blown away. I knew this
According to Dennis Gjerdingen, president of Clarke and coordinator of the M.E.D. program, the prevailing reason that students like Noyes are drawn to careers teaching deaf and hearing-impaired children is fairly straightforward: "Because here people really feel they can make a difference in children's lives." Likewise, a generous grant from a private family foundation (whose founders wish to remain anonymous) provides full-tuition scholarships to all who enter the program, Gjerdingen says. Room and board fellowships are also available to qualified students.
Not surprisingly, Marvelli says, the number of applications for the M.E.D. program has skyrocketed in the past three years, and the demand for good teachers exceeds the current supply. "Anyone who completes this program with even a traditional level of enthusiasm for teaching is guaranteed a job," he says, emphasizing "guaranteed." Then he points to a stack of phone messages he has recently received, each one representing a job opening somewhere in the United States or abroad. "I post them on our Web site and we help place our graduates as well. None of our graduates ever has a problem finding a job."
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Copyright © 2001, Smith College. Portions of this publication may be reproduced with the permission of the Office
of College Relations, Garrison Hall, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts 01063. Last update: 9/9/2001.
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