Nonprofit school for children with hearing loss expands in Roseville


Northern Voices teacher Elizabeth Rogers works with two soon-to-be graduates of the school’s preschool program, Ava (Left) and Sammy, both 5. (Joshua Nielsen/Review)

Northern Voices co-founder Penny Johnson (left) and Discovery Room teacher Angie Schnellman celebrate the school’s 15th year with some of its students. (submitted photo)

New, integrative preschool program to benefit hard of hearing and hearing children alike

Northern Voices in Roseville, a nonprofit school and daycare center focusing on listening and spoken language, provides a unique learning experience for young children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

And in the school’s preschool, some children’s speech seems more advanced than the typical 5-year-old’s.

“What color are you coloring the roof of the house?” a curious little girl asks the boy across from her. “I’m coloring the roof blue,” he says.

Ava and Sammy, both five, were busy coloring at a table under the watchful eye of their teacher Elizabeth Rogers. The two soon-to-be graduates of the preschool program are both deaf, but you would never know that talking to them. Each spoke in complete sentences, and pronounced nearly every word flawlessly.

In another room, a small group of three- and four-year-old students listen carefully as their teacher Angie Schnellman reads them a book, reacting in unison as she instructs them to touch their toes or wave their hands along with the story. The kids follow along as giggles of excitement fill the room.

Northern Voices in its 15th year

Since 1999, Northern Voices has been helping children who are deaf or have hearing loss, ages 18 months to 5 years old, learn to effectively listen and communicate through spoken language. The school averages about 35 students per year, some of which attend full-time, and others a couple of days a week.

Students at the school, located in St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, use either cochlear implants or hearing aids. Over time, through specialized teaching methods, students are able to develop the same language skills as their hearing peers. About 10 children typically graduate from the preschool program every year, and enroll in traditional kindergarten classes.

Northern Voices Director Erin Loavenbruck says the closest schools with similar programs are in Chicago and St. Louis, so Northern Voices has helped young children develop their language and listening skills from as far away as Wisconsin and North Dakota. Out of state families might stay in the area for extended periods of time in order for their child to attend programming.

Schnellman says some parents who first bring their children to Northern Voices are unsure what their child’s future will look like.

“You see a lot of parents worried, especially with first time parents, who are just trying to learn to be parents, let alone parents with a child with special needs.” 

She says those anxieties subside soon after parents tour the facility and see how happy and interactive all the children in the school are.

Schnellman has taught at the school since it opened nearly 15 years ago and has seen kids come in as a toddlers and return for alumni events as happy, confident teenagers and young adults.

“It’s been great to be able to see our kids accomplish all of the things they have dreamed about, and their parents have dreamed for them since they were born,” she says. 

Benefits for non-hearing and hearing children alike

This year the school has expanded to offer an integrative school program for both hearing and hard of hearing youngsters, ages 3 to 5. 

“Adding this program for hearing children opens up a really high quality preschool program to other children in our area,” Loavenbruck says.

Highly trained teachers with bachelor’s and/or master’s degrees staff Northern Voices, including speech-language pathologists, teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing and specialists in early childhood education. 

The school has small class sizes with low teacher to student ratios, so kids are able to get specialized one-on-one attention from teachers to help with their language and literacy skills -- the school’s area of expertise and focus.

Loavenbruck says Northern Voices teachers help children to constantly improve their spoken language and listening skills through early intervention and personalized instruction. Students learn these skills in a fun and supportive environment, she says.

“We have an amazing group of highly trained and dedicated teachers, who are creative, practice flexibility and patience and bring out the potential that they see in all of our kids,” she says.

In addition to attending a high quality preschool with specialized instruction and small class sizes, children with hearing loss and hearing children will also benefit from learning alongside one another.

“The kids’ interaction helps with their social development,” Loavenbruck explains. “Parents love it; they want their kids to be mainstream learners. It brings a lot of benefits to kids with hearing loss and for hearing kids, because they have the chance to be around each other.”

Loavenbruck says there are currently three hearing children whose parents have signed them up for the integrated preschool program, leaving room for seven more kids this year.

In addition to the integrated preschool program, Northern Voices offers infant and toddler programs for babies and toddlers from 3 months to 18 months old with hearing loss.

The hours for the preschool program are from 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.  The school has open enrollment throughout the year. For more information or to tour the facility, contact director Erin Loavenbruck at 651-639-2535.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824.

 

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