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Sign of Hope
Catholic school ministers
to deaf, hearing students

By Hilary Anderson


For 50 years, Children of Peace/Holy Trinity School has offered special service and outreach to children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and their families. The unique facility is the only Catholic school in Illinois which ministers to the needs of hearing-impaired youngsters and those with normal hearing.

“We are unique in that our school has two divisions,” said Arlene Redmond, principal of Children of Peace School and supervisor of Holy Trinity Deaf and Hard-of- Hearing program. “A large percentage of our children with special needs are Catholic and their parents want them to be in this setting.”

The school, now known as Children of Peace, is the consolidation of four schools. Its campus is on the former Holy Trinity Parish property, nestled in the midst of Chicago’s University of Illinois and Rush University medical campuses. Children of Peace draws its student body from throughout the Chicago area. At its own expense, the school provides van transportation for students with special needs and their siblings.

“One of the strengths of our school is its diversity,” said Phyllis Winter, president of Children of Peace and development director. “Many parents place their children with normal hearing in our school because of the diverse cultures and disabilities they will encounter here and vice versa. Some children also have relatives who may be deaf or hard-of-hearing and want to be able to communicate better with them.”

Children of Peace is proud of its history and total communication philosophy. The school uses all forms of communication, not just one, to teach children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

“Our program is unique in that we work with each student, meeting their individual needs,” said Redmond. “Ours is a comprehensive program but we don’t necessarily run with the trend. Students come to us with a variety of communication skills. Some use beginning hand gestures, others, signing or speech, yet others have a level of language development. We balance out what students need to know before they can cope with a hearing society.”

Winter added that Children of Peace addresses inclusion in a special way.

“We also do reverse mainstreaming so that children with normal hearing can be better skilled at communicating with siblings, parents or others who may be deaf or hard-of-hearing,” she said.

Some of Children of Peace’s special programs often benefit children with normal hearing. One of them is visual phonics to enhance reading.

“Students with auditory comprehension problems often benefit from visual phonics,” said Redmond. “Hand-shaping gives visual cues. Finger spelling at a certain part of the face also may help.”

Winter has seen many changes in education for the deaf and hard-of-hearing during her 55 years as a Catholic school teacher, 50 of which have been at Children of Peace.

Winter became interested in education for the deaf and hard-of-hearing when Catholic Charities first sponsored the school. She learned sign language and then became certified as a teacher of the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

“Years ago we started with lip-reading,” she said. “Each year seems to have brought new hope, new approaches, new ways to help the kids.”

Both of Redmond’s parents are deaf thus igniting her interest in serving the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

Winter and Redmond see cochlear implants as the latest hope. However, both caution there must be follow-up therapy to be truly successful. “Cochlear implants give sound to their ear but the success depends upon the child and how much therapy they get,” said Winter. “They are not just an enhancement of a hearing aid.”

“Cochlear implants are a marvel of science,” said Redmond. “The sound impulses are sent to the brain. The child has to be trained to these new sounds and what they hear. They need speech and auditory training to be successful.”

Technology is also a new component for learning.

“Those who were deaf and hard-of-hearing were so isolated before,” she said. “Now computers and smart boards allow students to communicate better and do interactive learning.”

Children of Peace recently received a grant that provided each deaf and hard-of-hearing student there with a personal laptop.

The school does have a few “angels” helping but always is on the lookout for more.

“We need financial help,” said Winter. “Our tuition is $4,000 this year but that hardly covers the approximately $9,622 we will spend on each student. We have a 5 to 1 student to teacher ratio, which means our expenses are even higher because of the added salaries. The transportation of students also impacts our budget since we pay for it out of our own funds.”

Rush University Medical Center recently built a stateof- the-art science lab and the school’s sharing parish—Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity, Winnetka—continues its fundraising projects for the Children of Peace School.

The Milligan Foundation also has provided scholarship money for students.

Redmond and Winter also cite the assistance they are receiving from the Archdiocesan Office of the Deaf.

“Father [Joseph] Mulcrone has been such a big help,” said Redmond. “He has a great insight into our needs since his grandparents were deaf.”

Redmond says the school’s goal is to take students from a self-contained classroom to a regular one.

“We are so proud of our program,” she said. “We take each student, see what they can cope with socially and educationally, then work towards the best quality of life for them possible that includes a love of God. There is nothing more gratifying and heart-warming than to see the bright expression on children’s faces when they meet others with whom they can communicate. We just love it.”

School started 50 years ago

Children of Peace/Holy Trinity’s Division for the Deaf and Heard-of-Hearing had its beginnings in 1957. Msgr. Vincent Cooke, Catholic Charities administrator at the time, asked Father John Marren, then pastor of Holy Trinity Parish, for help in locating two classrooms on the city’s West Side to serve handicapped children. Father Marren, who had a deep interest in helping handicapped people, made the rooms available in his school.

Catholic Charities established and supported the classes. One for was for educating 11 deaf children. The other was for 7 blind students. Sisters of Christian Charity staffed the school for children with normal hearing. Later, Sisters of the Living Word served as teachers there.

Two years later, the blind students moved to the South Side while the number of deaf students increased. About the same time, Marren built a new school building with rooms for the deaf on land that now is surrounded by the University of Illinois Health Science Campus and Rush University Medical Complex. It was funded largely by the Cardinal Stritch Foundation.

In 1964, Marren, working with the approval of the Illinois Medical Commission, built a second building to be used for the deaf and hard-of-hearing and young medical students as a Newman Center.

When Catholic Charities no longer could support the school for the deaf, it became part of the archdiocesan ministries embraced by the Office of Catholic Education.

Father John Harrington took over the Marren’s work in 1981 upon the priest’s death. The school and parish became Holy Trinity at the Medical Center.

The deaf division of Holy Trinity School continued to grow. The work of the Cardinal Stritch Foundation, the main arm of financial support for the school for the deaf, took on new dimensions under the guidance of Father Joseph Mulcrone, who now heads the archdiocese’s Office for the Deaf.

In 1990, Holy Trinity Parish closed but the school did not. Its enrollment began to expand.

Two years later, the archdiocese asked four Catholic schools and churches in the neighborhood to consolidate. By 1994, one school was formed under the name of Children of Peace at the original Holy Trinity campus, 1900 West Taylor.

The school continues to serve the medical district and has a working relationship with Rush University Medical Center, which recently built a state-of-the-art science lab there.

Children of Peace School enrolls 210 students with normal hearing and 24 deaf and hard-of-hearing students from preschool through grade eight. The school has a diversity of cultures and boasts a total communications philosophy. Its inclusive program gives students the opportunity to know some language before they have to cope with a hearing society.