Madonna Learning Center, Memphis Oral School for the Deaf move online

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 03, 2020 4:33 PM CT | Published: April 03, 2020 4:00 AM CT

Memphis Oral School for the Deaf and Madonna Learning Center’s unique teaching styles have transitioned online.

The schools are unaffiliated, but both are in Germantown and have stopped in-person learning at their campuses about 2 miles apart on Poplar Avenue.

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While some schools are providing optional coursework during the current shutdown, the two school are continuing to engage and teach students.

Memphis Oral School for the Deaf

MOSD serves students from birth to age 5 who have hearing impairments. No sign language is used at the school, and children have hearing devices. By intervening early, they hope to help children learn to listen and talk as well as build a foundation to succeed.

Students were last at the building March 12, but for now instruction is virtual with Microsoft Teams and Zoom. 

“Parents are having to be way more hands on,” Lauren Hays, MOSD executive director, said. “They are learning how to do listening checks at home. They make sure devices are on and working before a therapy session begins.”

The school staff is having daily meetings and parent surveys have helped them identify how they will meet their goals.

“I’m overwhelmed and proud of my staff,” Hays said, noting teachers were adapting their lessons but continuing to provide services.

However, because the students are young, parents have “stepped in and stepped up,” Hays said. They’ve also responded positively to the change.

The youngest students, from birth to age 3, already come about once per week with their parents. If needed or wanted, they can have some more intensive training.

“The program is heavy on parent training,” Hays said. “They are doing what they were doing (but) on the computer.”

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They also use nursery songs and rhymes to help students develop listening skills.

Preschool students, the older ones, usually are at school seven hours daily. However, it is hard to keep their attention span so they are doing abbreviated lessons.

“We are keeping sessions to 30 minutes but providing as many opportunities for children as we can,” Hays said. 

They play interactive board games online and read interactive books. When they click, a page turns. Teachers incorporate literacy components in lessons.

MOSD is also utilizing its YouTube channel for pre-recorded activities to engage students. Printed worksheets are being mailed home.

Every Friday, the school has a “Discover ME” class, Hays said, that is similar to yoga and a mental break. It promotes movement and body control and those lessons are provided for students to continue at home.

Parents are also encouraged to use everyday items and activities as learning opportunities.

“Trying to find things everyone has at home and do language development,” Hays said.

She hopes to incorporate circle time next week.

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Students had speech pathology three to five times each week and that is continuing online, but sometimes parents are having to assist with speech pathology and therapy to help staff determine the sounds students make as it may not be clear virtually.

However, they have faced some challenges. Some students live in Mississippi and even if they are learning virtually, the state wants the speech therapist or pathologist to have a Mississippi license. Hays said the school is working to get that issue resolved. MOSD is the only school of its kind in the area.

The school follows Shelby County Schools’ closure guidelines, and the district is closed until further notice.

Hays hopes everyone can return soon. She knows if an additional closure is required, it will disrupt plans for the end-of-year graduation. The children play violins, a skill learned at school, and butterflies are released. It’s a really treasured event for families, Hays said.

The school has 10 students graduating. 

“We will find a way to honor their accomplishments,” Hays said, noting it might have to be later in the summer. “It’s a huge milestone in the hearing loss journey.”

Madonna Learning Center

Madonna Learning Center teaches children with various developmental disabilities ages 4 to 19.

Students’ last day of school was March 13. They went on spring break and did not return to in-person classes on site.

Teachers were advised of the possibility due to escalating concerns related to COVID-19.

“Immediately, they started distance learning,” Lisa Abart, marketing coordinator, said. “It’s like they never missed a beat.”

Teachers prepared packets so students could have learning materials.

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Zoom is a resource teachers use to connect with students.

“It means more to our students to see their teacher,” she said.

Abart tuned into an art class in which the teacher used a document camera to show her drawing so students could see each step.

Younger classes are having individualized private lessons. Circle time may be done via Zoom while instruction is done with one or two students.

“Our school is individualized for every child,” Abart said. “We are still individualizing our lessons for virtual learning.”

Abart said since a lot of the learning at Madonna is hands-on, it wasn’t too difficult to switch.

“Teachers still had to think outside the box,” she said.

Students took a virtual field trip to the zoo and the school is exploring other virtual field trips students could take.

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Through Zoom, the teachers can connect with the parents and family and see home skills as well as academics.

“They are still doing all the academic work,” Abart said, noting math, spelling and other lessons are continuing.

Teachers are also working with students to provide resources in case they cannot make the lesson time on Zoom.

Blendspace, which is similar to an educational Pinterest, gives different ideas to help students remain engaged.

Occupational Therapy has made videos about buttoning and zipping. Speech therapists have made music videos and PE has made videos of activities for kids. The students are also encouraged to ask their parents how they can help.

The older students enjoy seeing each other on the screen but have learned with Zoom, they must wait patiently for their turn to speak so they are heard.

“It’s not perfect,” she said, noting it’s hard to find a perfect solution with the circumstances. “However, they love seeing each other.”

“(The adults) feel a sense of responsibility setting up their home offices each day.”

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Some of the older students are not working their jobs since state of emergency orders are causing restaurants and businesses to reduce staff. With more time at home, the older students are also able to put into practice skills they have learned at school.

“They are still keeping up with those skills they learned at Madonna and really show it off to their families,” Abart said.

The behavior specialist is checking on families and working on a social story parents can read to kids to help them understand the coronavirus without invoking fear into the kids.

Madonna is a Catholic School, so it is continuing to provide faith-based learning and chapel once per week. Hope Church is helping lead lessons and the staff is providing a Bible study of the older students and adults.

Both schools have fundraising plans that have been disrupted. To provide their wide array of services, they look to donations, grants and fundraisers but due to requirements prohibiting large gatherings, they have had to change course.

MOSD’s annual gala is the school’s biggest fundraiser and usually raises about $110,000. It was supposed to be April 18, but now is rescheduled for August 22. The school also usually benefits from the Valero Texas Open and receives approximately $20,000 to $30,000 from the event.

The school is going to brainstorm a virtual fundraiser, Hays noted. 

Madonna has moved to a virtual fundraiser instead of its annual 5K and fashion show. Instead, it will launch Move for Madonna next week, which encourages people to be active with running, dancing, jump roping or other creative ways.

The schools are hoping these will encourage people to look for ways to continue to support them as they look to continue to serve their students.


Madonna Learning Center Memphis oral School for the Deaf Developmental disabilities Hearing impairments
Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren is a lifelong resident of Shelby County and a graduate of the University of Memphis. She has worked for several local publications and covers the suburbs for The Daily Memphian.


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