THE first school for the deaf outside the capital will celebrate 40 years in Limerick next month.
The Mid West School for the Deaf has a story of campaigning, courage, cutbacks, fundraising, perseverance and success.
The current school building was built in 1998 to accommodate 14 pupils.
That building now accommodates 35 pupils, and talks are currently taking place with the Department of Education regarding further expansion.
“Ideally we would like to stay in Rosbrien,” said school principal Maria Allen.
“The local community has been amazing to us and we are very much part of it. That’s very important for us. We also work very closely with the school next door.”
Until 1979, deaf children and children with a significant hearing loss who lived in the Mid West had to leave their families to attend one of only two residential schools in the country, both of which were located in Dublin.
That all changed when the parents of four deaf children from the region realised that their children were in the same class and were travelling to Dublin each week to attend the Cabra schools.
With the assistance of The Daughters of the Cross Stillorgan and the Trustees of Catherine McCauley School, they opened a primary school for deaf children in a prefab on the grounds of Our Lady of Lourdes School in Rosbrien.
In 1980, the school was sanctioned by the Department of Education and in 1998, a new school was opened on the same site.
Later, a “secondary top” was sanctioned which meant that the school could start offering post primary subjects.
In 2002, the school opened an early intervention pre-school which was funded by the school itself until 2016 when it was taken over by the Department of Education as an early intervention class.
Lorraine O’Connor’s 13-year-old son Muiris has been a pupil at the school since he was three.
“We live in Ardagh, West Limerick so distance was a big thing for us when Muiris first started to attend the school.
“Once he started there, we knew instantly that this was where he needed to be – we have never looked back.
“Nothing is ever a problem. All the staff at the school are amazing. The deaf members of staff are role models for the children – it makes them realise that it is possible that in the future they will have jobs and contribute to society also,” said Lorraine.
Today, the Mid West School for the Deaf is the only school for the deaf outside of Dublin.
It has a cohort of 35 pupils and 19 staff, catering for pre-school, primary and post primary pupils.
All permanent staff members are qualified teachers for the deaf, which according to Maria Allen makes a huge difference.
“We have all got the expertise in audiology and in language development and language acquisition for deaf children which is so important,” she said.
The school also has the longest running early intervention pre-school for deaf children in the country (catering from children aged three to five).
Ms Allen is passionate about the importance of early intervention: “They can come to us from the age of three. That makes a huge difference for early language acquisition and development.
“We have specialised programmes here that are deaf specific. They are getting a huge amount of language input from a very early age.”
At post primary level, the school offers the Junior Cert programme at Level 3, the new Junior Cert programme at Level 2 and QQI awards at levels three and four.
In the 40 years since the school was founded, there have been many changes for the better, both inside and outside the classroom.
Improvements that have been made in early diagnosis, hearing aid and cochlear implant technology, and the recognition by the Irish State of Irish Sign language as an official language are all steps forward which have aided the school.
In addition to this, new teaching methods and the use of technology in the classroom have allowed the school to continue to grow.
However, there are still changes that need to be made, not least the building of a new purpose-built school.
In January 2020, the Mid West School for the Deaf will celebrate what they have achieved for the deaf children of the Mid-West and their families over the past 40 years.
Limerick Voice 2019 newspaper is available today in all copies of the Limerick Leader.