Framingham's Learning Center for the Deaf is building a $6 million, 20,000-square-foot early childhood learning center and library, a move that the director said is not only helpful, but necessary.
“The little kid population is growing quite a bit because [deaf] babies are being identified much earlier,” said Michael Bello, the school’s director.
The school has a waiting list for its preschool, and toddlers through kindergartners now share a building with the elementary school kids. Once the new building is completed, the youngest students will move into an age-appropriately designed space, which means the elementary school kids will have more room, too.
In addition, the library will be much larger. Currently, all students from 3-year-olds to 18-year-olds must share the same small library, said Bello.
“It is difficult,” said Bello. “When you have 3-year-olds through high school, you have a lot of needs… we’re really cramped for space.”
The Learning Center for the Deaf is a bilingual school, which means kids learn both American Sign Language, or ASL, and English. Deaf and hard of hearing kids can attend via their public school districts.
The school has both a day program and residential program, and works with a wide range of student populations including deaf children learning ASL as their first language, kids with cochlear implants, and deaf kids with physical and behavioral disabilities.
Founded in 1970, the school has its main campus on 12 acres in Framingham and a smaller campus in Randolph, as well. The school's 210 students come from 17 states, but 90 percent are from Massachusetts.
Bello said the Framingham campus has needed additional space for years, but financing has been an issue. The state helped the school secure a $3.6 million tax-exempt bond, which was key for construction to begin, said Bello.
Carla DelPizzo, a spokeswoman for the school, described the temporary fixes to which the school has resorted over the years including “reconfiguring library areas, hallways, and formerly public spaces into makeshift classrooms and parent/child teaching space.”
“Now there is simply no more space,” she said.
DelPizzo said that early intervention with deaf and hard of hearing kids is a key component to their success, and the school's early childhood learning center is often a family’s first connection to specialized services.
In addition, the media conference center in the new library will have four conference rooms that can be used for distance learning and give students and teachers access to professionals and peers far beyond the campus, she said. The school will be able to share its research on issues such as deaf autism with other professionals and teachers around the world.
Megan McKee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.