Director Of School In Wethersfield For Deaf Children Brings Lessons To Kuwait

By CHRISTOPHER HOFFMAN Special to The Courant
Soundbridge school director traveled to school in Kuwait

WETHERSFIELD -- Elizabeth Cole's journey to Kuwait began with an email.

A former student of Cole's when she was a professor at Montreal's McGill University asked her to travel to the country to consult at a school for deaf children.

Cole, the director of Soundbridge, which provides education and services to deaf children throughout the region, is a recognized expert. Her 2011 book "Children with Hearing Loss" is a staple for deaf educators and families of children with hearing loss.

"It kind of came out the blue," she said of the invitation. "She asked me to come and consult to see if they were on the right track. They wanted some guidance."

Cole, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in India more than 40 years ago, accepted. On a Saturday earlier this month, she stepped aboard an airplane for the 30-hour trip to Kuwait and then spent a whirlwind three days at the school in the desert kingdom.

"It was very surreal to be here and then to plunk myself there for three days and then come back again," Cole said.

The school she visited, Sada Educational Center -- "sada" means echo in Arabic -- is for children with total or almost total hearing loss. Most of its 20 to 30 students, aged 2 to 6, use cochlear implants, which are surgically implanted and enable the deaf to hear through electro-acoustical stimulation.

Cole said she was impressed by the quality of the school's equipment and the commitment of its staff.

"They have the resources for a really excellent facility, and they have some excellent equipment, but what they are lacking is the expertise," she said. "That is why they invited me there, to try to help them with some parts of that."

For two days, Cole observed the school and talked to teachers. On the final day, she gave a seminar to the school's staff.

Cole said she enjoyed the Kuwaiti workday, which ran from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. with a break for lunch and rest. It then resumed at 4 p.m. after the day's heat had dissipated.

Her busy schedule left little time to explore the rest of Kuwait City. One day, Cole was able to visit the city's souk, or old market, where she bought souvenirs and took pictures. She said she received a friendly welcome wherever she went.

"The people I met were just incredible," she said.

Cole hopes to return to Kuwait and learn more about the country as well as bring members of Sada's staff to Soundbridge.

"I just scrapped the surface," Cole said. "It's a whole world out there that I was really tickled to learn a bit more about."

Cole, an Illinois native, became an educator of the deaf by chance. After the Peace Corps, she found herself teaching University of Kentucky students study and writing skills. Looking for a job, she ended up at the Lexington Deaf Oral School and fell in love with the work.

Four decades later, Cole is still educating deaf children. In that time, hearing aids have improved enormously and cochlear implants have enabled otherwise completely deaf children to hear.

"It's been like a revolution based on the technology that's available now," Cole said. "Children with cochlear implants can do fabulously well, if they get implants young enough and get instruction young enough."

Hearing loss is more than academic for Cole. Asked if she is hearing-impaired herself, she immediately responds "yes," and pulls two small hearing aids from her ears.

Soundbridge is part of the Capitol Region Education Council, which also operates magnet schools in the region.

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