Finding the Right Fit For Our Family with FLVS
This post was written by Tina Morris, a FLVS Flex parent and hearing loss advocate.
May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, and it undoubtedly prompts me to reflect on our medical and educational journey with my son, Karsen. Speech therapy, sensory integration therapy, audiologists, oral motor specialists, doctors, and special schools were all a part of Karsen’s early childhood and education. Karsen eventually closed enough gaps to mainstream into our neighborhood elementary school and was finally finding his place among peers and discovering his passions in middle school. But then the pandemic hit, and everything changed.
For a kid who uses some lip-reading and facial cues to support what he is hearing in and out of the classroom, masks rocked his world. It was very clear that a global pandemic doesn’t just change the rules, it’s a whole different game. We needed to pivot his education to ensure access and care for his overall well-being. We turned to Florida Virtual School (FLVS) to give him the inclusive education he deserved.
Starting Fresh With the Right Support
You see, Karsen is deaf. And he’s not alone. 5 in 1,000 children have some degree of hearing loss and most of them are in mainstream classrooms. Karsen uses cochlear implants to listen and speak thanks to early intervention from auditory oral specialists, consistent use of his powerful hearing technology, and our parental commitment to his success.
While most people still equate being deaf to the use of sign language as the only means of communicating, more than 90% of children born with hearing loss are born to hearing parents. The vast majority of these parents choose listening and spoken language for their child with hearing loss when given all the options and access to resources. Many of these children can be fitted with hearing technology (hearing aids and cochlear implants), and when access to sound is provided along with early intervention and family support services, they can develop age-level or above age-level speech and language skills.
After exploring our options when Karsen was diagnosed with hearing loss at 16 months old, he was fitted with hearing aids, and then received cochlear implants before he turned three. Within a year of becoming bilaterally implanted, and with the support of specialized speech pathologists and teachers of the deaf, the long-awaited day came when Karsen said in his squeaky toddler voice, “Momma.” A few months later, “I love you.”
Fast forward to 2019. Karsen was thriving in eighth grade with very few accommodations at school. He was in drama class and wanted to be an actor. He earned the coveted superior medal at the Florida State Junior Thespian Competition in February 2020. But by March 2020, as we know, the world came to a halt and school went online.
An Unexpected Journey
The remote emergency learning that most students experienced in the 2020-21 school year was messy. Karsen labored to find or connect to closed captioning tools during those first few weeks – whether it was a teacher not having or enabling the feature in video conferencing, or the learning management platform not supporting captions. At one point, he watched class on the monitor and had a translator app running on his phone to supply the captions. His eyes toggled back and forth all day while taking notes. It was grueling.
When August 2020 rolled around, Karsen really wanted to go back to drama class and be with his peers. So, we worked with his Individualized Education Program (IEP) team and school leadership to ensure teachers would wear clear masks or face shields when he was in class, and upon agreeing, he entered ninth grade in brick-and-mortar.
After a week, it became clear that brick-and-mortar wasn’t conducive to his learning. Masks and barriers were proving to be a hindrance in Karsen’s full ability to learn like he used to, and it left him exhausted from deciphering and trying to follow along with who was speaking all day.
By mid-September, we could see Karsen’s emotional state was suffering. He smiled less and less. Something needed to change. What were the options a month into the school year? What environment would give Karsen full access to learning? Where could he be supported with the accommodations he needs? Do I need to quit my job to manage this?
After several phone calls to FLVS to speak with their guidance and Exceptional Student Education (ESE) departments, the answer was clear. We took a leap of faith and unenrolled Karsen from our school district and declared him a homeschool student. It was time to thrive with FLVS Flex, and not just survive these strange times.
Discovering A New Community
In October, Karsen began his classes, which meant starting ninth grade over, but he was up for the challenge. He quickly regained confidence. He was able to access 100% of the academic information every day in every class. Plus, he had control of his learning – he could pause the video, re-read the passage, and many more tools were at his fingertips.
Even though he no longer had the protection of an IEP as a homeschool student, Florida Virtual School was so supportive. The teachers used video conferencing with captions when doing live lessons and discussion-based assessments (DBAs). My nerves were put at ease with the frequent updates I received and the “open door” access I had to his teachers. I had more communication with his teachers than I had in years! And with a hybrid work environment and additional support from our extended family, we quickly adapted to homeschool as a working family.
Karsen finished the ninth grade curriculum in just six months with incredible results. We were shocked by what could be accomplished when you just focus on academics. He decided to continue with Florida Virtual School, with the goal to complete the 10th and 11th grade by June 2022, and get a part-time job to have some socialization… and he’s doing it! He’s on track to reach his goal, with a transcript any parent would be proud of. Not to mention, college tours are happening too!
A Bright Future
In closing, we are so grateful to FLVS Flex for restoring our son’s academic confidence. Also, please know how important thoughtful consideration of differences or accommodations can be so that a child/adult can participate at an equal level to their peers, whether it’s in education, sports, or employment.
I hope by sharing our story it brings to light what’s possible for today’s children with hearing loss. We’re incredibly proud of all the things Karsen has accomplished and look forward to what the future holds for him.
Thank you to all the professionals and educators who connect children with hearing loss to language and that support families in their choice. If you want to learn more about hearing loss, cochlear implants, or Better Hearing and Speech Month, here are some resources I suggest:
Is Florida Virtual School provided for free by the state of Florida? Is it limited to Florida residents?
Hi Sid. Florida Virtual School is free for Florida residents. You can learn more about our options for Florida and non-Florida residents at https://www.flvs.net/online-school-options