The new sound of Sunshine in San Antonio

by Randy Beamer - News 4 San Antonio
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SAN ANTONIO - The sound of Sunshine is different than I remember when I shot a couple of stories at their old place a few decades back.

It seems even more normal.

That may sound weird itself, but what we now simply call 'Sunshine Cottage' in San Antonio is still technically called the "Sunshine Cottage School for Deaf Children" just as it was when it opened 68 years ago.

But you don't hear the word deaf here anymore, and not just because it was sometimes thrown around as a kind of insult.

Deaf just isn't accurate anymore.

"It doesn't mean what it used to mean because now through technology, we're able to help anybody learn to listen and speak," says Belinda Pustka, who works with the school.

And in the school cafeteria watching the kids from pre-school to 5th grade at their annual Thanksgiving Feast, you would hardly know they are different in any way from other children.

The only signs you might notice as each grade sings a song or acts out a presentation - are the small hearing aids or cochlear implants around the ears of many of the children.

"We are a listening and spoken language school," Pustka tells me. "So children here - with the aid of modern technology, [including] cochlear implants or hearing aids - are able to hear, listen, and speak.

And even shout. "Turkey! Turkey! Turkey!" they chant in unison, as the principal wheels out the main dish.

No one is using sign language - which you might expect at a school for the deaf.

"No, if your viewers were here they would hear what you would hear in any cafeteria across the city of san Antonio," Pustka says.

"It's children's voices. They're talking, they're laughing... and they don't need to use sign language."

So they also don't talk the way they used to when they couldn't hear their own voice.

"That's rights," she says. "It has changed. It truly is a modern miracle in that you have kids that have cochlear implants or hearing aids. And so we fit the littlest baby at 3 weeks."

Starting in 1999 Texas law required all newborns be screen for hearing loss, as experts like those at Sunshine Cottage say early detection and diagnosis of hearing loss makes a huge difference in how quickly children are fitted for some kind of hearing aid - and able to develop normal speech.

One of the teachers shows us how cochlear implants work, standing directly behind a student and asking her to repeat sounds.

"Eee," she says. "Eee" the little girl repeats.

"Cochlear implants are just amazing. They're like bionic ears and that means they can hear like you and I," the teacher explains.

"But they need to learn how those sounds - sound. And they need to learn to speak with that. It's not like putting on your glasses and you walk out of the office and you see every leaf on a tree. You really have to practice."

Nearly 140 students are enrolled at the school's campus on Hildebrand, just north of Trinity University.

There are several classes for the earliest grades, but only one class for the oldest - the fifth-graders. That's because some of the children no longer have a need for this special schooling.

"Our goal is when they leave Sunshine Cottage you won't be able to tell a difference between them and their typical hearing peers." Pustka says.
"And they will be able to function academically like any other child and we're very successful with that."

Check out the story by clicking on the video link.

And for more information about Sunshine Cottage, click here.

A big thank you to everyone at Sunshine Cottage for allowing us to be part of the annual Thanksgiving Feast. Evy and I really appreciate it.

And thanks for letting me bring my camera. I didn't mean to shoot so much, but it was just too cool NOT to.

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