Hands & Voices Interview:

High School Senior Elise Bartley

By Sara Kennedy

With the dismal statistics about academic success for the majority of our kids with hearing loss in mind, we bring you the story of a student who has succeeded far beyond that 3.8 grade average reading level that seems so resistant to improvement. Hands & Voices had a hard time catching up with Elise Bartley, an 18 year old senior at Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs . Miss Bartley has recently written a booklet on her perspective of growing up with a profound hearing loss and using an oral method of communication, as part of a Senior Girl Scout Gold Award. The Gold Award is the highest Girl Scout honor. She's also been named one of the Mayor's Top 100 Teens, the Gazette News' 25 Best and Brightest, and has been active in sports as well as graduating with a 4.2 grade point average.

H&V: Congratulations on completing your project, Elise! How did the idea for this project come about? What were you hoping that your readers would learn by reading your booklet?

EB: Well, at the time I applied for my project, I was still going to be active in sports throughout the year, and I needed a project that would be rather flexible to do, as far as time constraints. In addition, as I've gotten older, I've finally come to embrace my hearing loss, and I have had many experiences that I thought other people might like to learn from. In addition, I saw the need and desire for people to hear about positive experiences and successes of hard-of-hearing people, and I wanted to fill that need.

H&V: In your book, you recount many stories from your education as a mainstreamed student after preschool. What would you like future teachers and speech therapists to understand about working with students in the mainstream?

EB: I think the main thing is to be flexible, as every child is different and will need different things. There may be times that a student needs extensive accommodations, and the flexibility on a teacher's part will make the child feel so much more at ease. A teacher or speech therapist should also be willing to listen. I had a speech therapist in elementary school who I saw twice a week for therapy, but there were some times when I just needed to vent to her, and she was willing to listen and forgo therapy for that day. This was such a blessing, because in a lot of ways, I felt she was the only one I could talk to extensively at school.

H&V: In reading this piece, I was struck by how often you mentioned that listening/lipreading was an exhausting daily process for you. I think parents will appreciate the emphasis on making sure a child has listening breaks built in to their day. Do you plan to make any changes in how you manage your classroom experience in preparation for college?

EB: Listening breaks are essential. College should be interesting for me, as I know one of my classes will be a four-hour class (part of it is a design portion/studio, however). One thing that will be nice in college is my classes may not be back to back to back, so hopefully just the five minute or the hour break in between classes should help me relax. I don't think the listening portion in college will be too different from high school, but that remains to be seen.

H&V: I'm sure many of the parents reading the Communicator want to know the answer to this: How do you think you became such a successful reader/writer?

EB: Well, my parents read to me from day one, and as they read, they pointed their finger to the word they said so I could follow along. In addition, my family obtained a closed-captioned TV when I was four years old and I was immersed in reading that, which made a world of difference. Reading constantly, from the very beginning, made a difference in how I read, and then, how I write. It's interesting because I'm a very good speller compared to my peers, and I think it's because I've always been so reliant on the visual sight of the word rather than the spoken word, which allows one to learn spelling more. I think reading and writing go hand in hand.

H&V: Did you ever meet a deaf or hard of hearing adult that you considered a role model?

EB: I do have one in particular, though there are many I admire. I admire Heather Whitestone greatly, but one that sticks out into my mind is actually the mom of one of my good friends. She lost some hearing when she was a teenager and then lost more as a young adult. She now wears aids. However, what I think is amazing is that she was actually an interpreter for a girl in middle school despite her hearing loss. I can't imagine doing that with a hearing loss, yet she did very well. I really admire her perseverance through her hearing loss and not letting it keep her down.

H&V: What kinds of things did you include on your Communication Plan as a student in Colorado ? (Not every state has this legislation specifically considering communication access for the deaf or hard of hearing student.)

EB: We have always had the option of using an FM system, though I have not used one since seventh grade. I have relied solely on my hearing aids, speechreading, and choosing a good seat in class after that. I think resources such as an FM system or an interpreter were listed as available if needed. I may consider more accommodations in college if the need arises.

H&V: Was there anything you or your parents did that made after school and outside activities more successful?

EB: When I was younger, my parents always met with my coaches at the beginning of each season to explain my hearing loss and how to best communicate with me. During high school sports, I talked to the coaches on my own and we worked out strategies about communication during games, etc. Sometimes, things had to be "adjusted" as needed! My mom was active in Girl Scouts with me so I could rely on her to help me when I needed it. My leader was also incredibly supportive and caring!

H&V: Tell us a little about your future plans.

EB: Next year, I will be going to California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo . I will be studying architecture in my pursuit of a Bachelor's in Architecture degree. I am very excited about this opportunity due to the fact it is the second best architecture school in the country and its wonderful location....beach and 70 degree days year round!

H&V: On behalf of Hands & Voices, we wish you the best of luck in your future adventures.


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