Smith College ends Master’s in Education of the Deaf program; Clarke Schools establishes new partnership with Fontbonne University

Last modified: Thursday, June 25, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — The Class of 2015 is the last in the Smith College Master’s in Education of the Deaf program, which the college decided last year to discontinue.

The program — which has graduated about 1,500 students — since 1962 had been a collaboration between Smith and Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech, which now will form a similar partnership with Fontbonne University in St. Louis.

Smith announced last year that it was ending the program because it lost external funding. The college also said in a statement that “an additional consideration was the change in the interest and expertise of Smith College’s faculty.”

Dan Salvucci, the program’s interim director, called Smith’s program a “preeminent” teacher of the listening and spoken language approach to deaf education, in which hard-of-hearing students learn to develop spoken language and listening skills.

“When our graduates have completed the program they are highly sought after and quickly become master teachers of the deaf in the programs they move on to,” said Salvucci, who is a graduate of the Smith program. “I’m saddened, but very excited that we are going to be doing the work we do with Fontbonne University.”

Salvucci, who will now work for the Fontbonne master’s degree program, explained that Smith professors who taught a class in the program will no longer do so, and Clarke faculty who taught in the program now may teach Fontbonne students.

According to Salvucci, the Fontbonne program will use the Internet to connect students doing field placements in different satellite locations, which the Smith program did as well.

Bill Corwin, president of Clarke Schools, also called the Smith master’s degree program “preeminent” and expressed disappointment that it was discontinued.

“This program trained a number of people who are leaders in the field, and who do great work day in and day out,” Corwin said. “It’s disappointing from the perspective of Clarke, it’s disappointing because it’s a loss to kids.”

Corwin said he is hopeful that the new partnership with Fontbonne will be fruitful.

“On the one hand it’s disappointing and on the other hand we’re very excited about the new masters program that we have with Fontbonne,” Corwin said.

Corwin said he was particularly glad to forge a new partnership because of increasing demand in the field for teachers of deaf education.

“The demand for teachers with the kind of training the Smith program had specialized in is greater than it’s been in many, many years,” Corwin said.

Katie Jennings, who graduated this year from the Smith program and works at Clarke, agreed.

“At Clarke we are constantly growing. Every year we are hiring new teachers and not necessarily losing them,” Jennings said. “That was kind of our pool of freshly educated teachers that would come in and bring that new light and energy to the field. It’s pretty disappointing that we won’t have that anymore.”

However, Jennings expressed hope that the Fontbonne program will also produce talented teachers of the deaf. “I’m encouraged that they’re doing the Fontbonne program, I hope that we’re able to use some of those resources,” she said.

Carola Martinez-van Bokkem, also a member of the last Smith College class, said she was grateful to be part of the program before it ended. Bokkem said that though she had little experience with deaf education when she began the program, she now feels prepared to teach deaf students.

“During the past year I learned to be a critical teacher by always self-reflecting the work that I do, to teach students and their environments, to never assume and I developed an even bigger passion for this field,” she wrote in an email.


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