DePaul Institute breaking barriers in educating the deaf
Ask Don Ruff about his grandson Johnny Sopczynski and he’ll say that Johnny excels in his second-grade classes in the South Park School District and loves to talk with family and friends.
“Sometimes you can’t get him to shut up,” Ruff, of Bethel Park, said with a laugh.
What makes Johnny’s story so incredible, Ruff said, is that when he was born, doctors told Johnny’s mother he would never speak.
Johnny was born with profound hearing loss. His family soon enrolled him at the DePaul Institute, and at 2, he received a cochlear implant.
By the time Johnny was in kindergarten, he was in the public school system, the youngest child DePaul has ever mainstreamed — “yet,” said Theresa Dean Bulger, director of institutional advancement for DePaul.
The DePaul Institute is a school for children with hearing, speech and language impairments. It focuses on aural/auditory education, teaching deaf children to speak and understand oral language.
About 80 students attend the school, one of 32 schools worldwide to offer aural-auditory education. More students are served on an outreach basis.
Nearly 50 school districts from the region send children to the institute, a state-approved private school for special education.
Since 1910, the school has made its home on a sprawling 12-acre campus in Mt. Lebanon. Next week, it will relocate to the former Sacred Heart High School in Shadyside.
Bill Schoy, 10, of McKeesport said Thursday he was excited about the move to the new school next year. He and his classmates had a chance to see the new school during a tour last week.
Their favorite partâ¢ A bowling alley at the Shadyside school.
“I like the bowling alley and maybe the basketball courts,” he said.
Classmate Anna Wesolowski, 9, of North Huntingdon, agreed.
“I like to go bowling,” she said.
Classes at DePaul wrapped up Friday amid boxes of items to be moved to the new school.
The Bradley Center will move into DePaul’s old facility to operate a residential treatment facility and licensed special education school for children and adolescents with mental, emotional and developmental disabilities.
Bulger said the move is a sentimental one.
“We have this history and old memories and values we’re taking with us. It’s kind of what energizes us,” she said.
The move is the crux of a multimillion-dollar campaign to bring improvements and new technology to enhance DePaul’s programming.
A study determined that improving the current campus would have required $18 million, said DePaul Superintendent Paul Boggio.
“That was just impossible,” Boggio said. The school also had looked at building a new school on the campus, but that, too, was cost prohibitive.
The old high school was donated to DePaul by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh through the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill in Greensburg, and DePaul has spent nearly $4 million to remodel the old school to meet the institute’s needs.
Bulger said the improvements will allow for DePaul to improve and expand the institute’s numerous outreach programs with a more centralized location and improved technology.
The institute is in the midst of a capital campaign to pay for the remodeling.
DePaul’s oral deaf education program and its work with cochlear implants touches on a subject of controversy among the deaf community.
A cochlear implant is a prosthetic replacement for the damaged inner ear, or cochlea. The system converts sound into electric pulses which are transmitted to the brain via tiny wires and electrodes implanted in the ear.
A number of people in the deaf community have denounced the implants and oral education, seeing them as a threat to deaf culture.
About 64 percent of the children at DePaul have cochlear implants, Boggio said.
“The real world is a hearing world, a speaking world,” Boggio said. “The cochlear implant is a great technology that has made more sophisticated the opportunity for most deaf people to hear a wider range of sounds.”
And the technology, combined with the auditory education, has helped DePaul institute achieve its goal, Boggio said.
“Our mission is to prepare students to be able to go back into our community and have a successful life in that community,” he said.
About 92 percent of DePaul’s students have been mainstreamed into their neighborhood schools over the past decade.
Ruff said his grandson’s success is why he now volunteers at the institute and helped to coordinate the move.
“You just have to look at what they do with these little kids,” he said.