GOODING — As Idaho’s population grows, there are more children to serve who have vision or hearing challenges.
And as it works to keep up with that growth, The Gooding-based Idaho Educational Services for the Deaf and the Blind is pushing to identify deaf and hard of hearing or blind and visually impaired children at a younger age.
IESDB reported its growth Wednesday in an annual report to the Idaho State Board of Education.
“We’ve about tripled on both sides the number of babies we’re serving,” IESDB superintendent Brian Darcy said Thursday. “Early intervention is huge.”
That’s compared with eight years ago. Now, it’s serving about 75 blind/visually impaired babies and 160 deaf/hard of hearing babies.
Statewide, the agency reaches more than 2,000 people from birth through age 26 — up about 300 over 2015 and 900 since 2009. Two-thirds are deaf/hard of hearing, consistent with nationwide trends.
“The growth has been in the deaf/hard of hearing, and mostly in the hard of hearing range,” Darcy said.
Once a child is in the school system, they’ll often be identified as having a speech issue first.
“If they’re not hearing soft sounds… they have a tendency not to produce them themselves,” he said.
For younger children, IESDB has four preschools throughout Idaho — in the Meridian area, Coeur d’Alene, Gooding and Pocatello.
“We’re trying to get them kindergarten ready,” Darcy said.
The agency also has as “common ground kindergarten” program in cooperation with the West Ada School District in the Treasure Valley. Children spend the morning in their regular classroom and the afternoon in the IESDB classroom. Last year, eight of nine participating children scored a “3” on the Idaho Reading Indicator — the highest possible, Darcy said, meaning they’re reading at grade level.
“That type of early intervention is proving itself,” he said.
Children are identified to receive IESDB services through partnerships with other agencies, school districts, Idaho State Department of Education, and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s Infant Toddler Program.
In Gooding, nearly 100 students attend classes at the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind’s campus — up from 77 during the 2009-10 school year.
“We’re seeing a significant uptick in that and have some fantastic growth,” Darcy said.
About half those students live in the Magic Valley with their families. Others stay in on-campus cottages during the school week and get free transportation home each week by bus or plane. Across Idaho, many other students receive help at their hometown school, such as having an American Sign Language interpreter assigned to them. IESDB also provides Braille textbooks and materials at no cost to school districts. The agency helps school districts make accommodations for students in need, Darcy said, including sound amplification systems or changing seating arrangements for a student who is hard of hearing.
ISDB employees are “rock stars” and “outstanding at what they do,” said Mike Gemar, director of support services for the Twin Falls School District. “We really appreciate our working relationship with them.”
For Twin Falls children who go to school at ISDB, Gemar said, it’s considered their “least restrictive environment” where their needs can be best met.
ISDB provides highly specialized services, he said, the Twin Falls School District can’t. “They’re the experts. We rely really heavily on their expertise.”