Carle breaks ground on hearing loss facility

Students from the St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf at Carle sing while Carle Foundation President and CEO James Leonard watches during the groundbreaking ceremony for the ECH Building on Wednesday afternoon. Wes Anderson

Students from the St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf at Carle sing while Carle Foundation President and CEO James Leonard watches during the groundbreaking ceremony for the ECH Building on Wednesday afternoon. Wes Anderson

By Kate Szyszka

Mike Rockert of Bourbonnais knew his hearing impaired son, Dawson, was not receiving the help he needed to keep up with other students in his class at his local school.

“I knew more could be done,” said Rockert.

Rockert’s wife drove their son Dawson an hour and half every day to St. Joseph’s Institute for the Deaf at Carle in Champaign.

“He’s going back to mainstream school now,” Rockert said. “After being at St. Joseph’s two years he should definitely be able to keep up.”

Children facing hearing loss in central Illinois and its surrounding areas will soon continue to reap the benefits of St. Joseph’s not offered in mainstream schools – but in a new facility to aid in their early education.

Carle Foundation Hospital broke ground on their new facility aimed at benefiting children with hearing loss Wednesday. The facility will combine the hospital’s Expanding Children’s Hearing Opportunities center, known as ECHO, and the Carle Auditory Oral School, formerly known as St. Joseph’s, into the same $6.25 million building. This new facility is aimed at further providing opportunities for area children from birth to age 6 facing hearing loss.

“This is a moment that’s been a long time coming,” said Dr. Michael Novak, medical director of Carle Foundation’s ECHO program. “We have a vision for this to be a model for the deaf in the Midwest. It is our goal to be a model for the deaf in the country.”

The new facility will partner with graduate and undergraduate students at Eastern Illinois University, Illinois State University and the University of Illinois as a cooperative effort for research and teaching. The new building, which will open for the start of the 2009-10 school year, will allow for increased research and more classes, Novak said.

The auditory school previously had space to educate and assist in medical issues related to hearing and speaking for four classes of 23 students. The new facility will have space for nine classes of 54 students.

Recent graduates from the auditory school were present at the ground breaking, which followed their graduation ceremony. Each of the students present received a shovel to do their part in breaking ground.

Parents of the graduates praised the facilities offered by the school and spoke of their excitement for the new institute.

“My son didn’t speak or hear at all for two years until he went to the school, now he is nearly age-appropriate,” said parent Lynsey Hotwick of Urbana. “It’s amazing.”

Mike Rockert’s six-year-old son Dawson agreed that his time at the school and his graduation were good experiences.

“My favorite part was talking to all my friends and my speech,” he said.