Favorite Staff Memories
This article is a special edition as it’s the first of hopefully many sharing sessions from our staff. Working at a school like DePaul organically offers so many exceptional moments and memories that staff cherish. In the spirit of the season, we wanted to share a few jolly memories from Sara Baines-Miller. Sara is the Educational Technology and Communications Director for DePaul School for Hearing and Speech. She’s been with the school since February, 2015 and had several fond memories to choose from. We hope you delight in these three sweet recollections from her.
Spotlight Story – The Sounds of the Season
Anyone who works in education knows that the week before Christmas/Winter break is always ridiculously busy! The students are anxious and excited for the holiday break and the staff is equally thrilled to enjoy a few days off (and the holidays too, of course). There is a tremendous amount of anticipation and enthusiasm in the air that cannot be ignored or, in some instances, contained!
Things are no different at DePaul School for Hearing and Speech; in fact, I’d argue it’s even more festive. The teachers and speech-language pathologists all start to focus on holiday vocabulary, giving the students brand new words to try out… and try out they do! The students are so happy to tell ANYONE who will listen about their holiday plans, traditions, and anything else they can think of while using their new vocabulary.
One of the things we focus a lot on at DePaul School is music. Some may find it surprising that we incorporate music into our classes at a school for the deaf, but there are so many incredible benefits music can bring to speech development. Repetition, tone, melody, and rhythm are all necessary for learning to speak with clarity and confidence. With the holidays quickly approaching, it was a no-brainer to try to incorporate Christmas carols into the holiday festivities. But how could we make it special?
I reached out to a personal friend from college, Drew Leigh Williams, who was currently starring in the Pittsburgh CLO’s production of Zanadu. A professional actress, singer, and college professor, I knew she would take our sing-along to the next level. She and another of her CLO castmates understood their mission and visited DePaul. They brought jingle bells, sleigh bells, and all kinds of other rhythmic instruments to make caroling even more exciting.
After introducing herself to the students and explaining what it meant to be a professional theater actress, Drew handed out the noisemakers and away the students went! From Jingle Bells to Here Comes Santa Claus, our students belted out the songs along with our Broadway stars.
Our rhythm section totally nailed the sleigh bell solos in each song in addition to singing at the tops of their lungs. It was a cacophony of joy, music, and celebration that I doubt I will ever experience again in my lifetime. I will forever remember watching the sheer joy and giddiness on each student’s face as they did their best to sing along with two professional singers. It was the best Christmas gift I have ever received.
Here Comes Santa Claus
2020 was an incredibly tough year for everyone. It was exceptionally difficult for our students at DePaul School for Hearing and Speech. The virtual environment was challenging because our students have hearing loss and/or speech delays. Therefore, we resumed in-person learning for the 2020-2021 school year. As mentioned in a previous blog post, we had a great deal of safety measures in place to keep everyone healthy. While those safety measures worked well, they were extremely exhausting to uphold. Listening fatigue is a very real thing, and our students were starting to burn out with the masks and trying to understand each other from behind them. By December, the students AND staff were in desperate need of a little holiday magic.
The Real Beard and Belly Santa, donning a special face shield, visited DePaul and spent time with our students. For the first time since March, I saw these pandemic-weary students finally forget about Covid-19 for an hour and just focus on being a kid again. The experience definitely made me believe in Christmas Miracles again!
Last year, our incredible Parent liaison, Morgan Bassinger, and a team of parents implemented a “Santa’s Workshop” for our students. This workshop, coordinated with an outside company that does this for other schools, allowed students to go shop for holiday gifts for their families.
However, it wasn’t long before we realized not every child brought money to shop. What I witnessed next was a true case of paying it forward!
The first donation was from Morgan. She shared money with a student and told them to start shopping. I’ve never seen a child “jump for joy” before, but that’s certainly what happened. This student walked up and down the aisles with the biggest smile on their face.
The second donation was from the parent volunteer. A second student joined the first with a squeal of happiness.
And, thus, the pay-it-forward domino effect ensued. DePaul staff began donating money to Morgan at the cash register for whoever needed it. Collectively, we decided that not a single student would go without the experience of giving to others for the holidays.
The passion and commitment of our staff for our students is something I have never experienced in any other place. Day after day, these students are loved, nurtured, and educated by some of the most selfless people I have ever had the honor of working with. The DePaul Family, to me, is truly exceptional and has made such a difference in the lives of our students for the last 115 years.
Connect With Us
We hope you enjoyed reading some of Sara’s favorite holiday memories. Reach out to us with questions about our programs & services, our careers, or be a part of the holiday magic by giving a monetary donation to DePaul School for Hearing & Speech!
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