Emily Johnson is a second-year graduate student in the Master of Deaf Education and Hearing Science (DEHS) Program at the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine. Her learning journey to become a certified educator for deaf and hard-of-hearing children began when she was just a preschooler.
Johnson attended the Sunshine Cottage School for Deaf Children from pre-K through fourth grade. As a typically-hearing student, Johnson learned alongside children with hearing disabilities and benefitted from small class-sizes and a diverse, inclusive learning environment, just some of the many reasons Johnson’s mother decided to enroll both her typically-hearing children there.
“My brother and I had a great experience at Sunshine Cottage. It’s really different than a typical public school environment. Sunshine is kind of in its own little bubble,” Johnson said, noting the strong sense of community that was fostered there.
Many of Johnson’s current coworkers taught Johnson at the time she was attending Sunshine Cottage, and Blane Trautwein, EdD, CED, program director of the Deaf Education and Hearing Science Program at UT Health San Antonio was even the school’s principal during that time.
“There’s definitely a lot of carryover from when I was a kid. It’s really cool to have that full circle moment.”
The Deaf Education and Hearing Science program partners with Sunshine Cottage, where graduate students complete course work that includes observations, seminars and practicum assignments. The two-year program is one of only a handful in the country that provides intensive training in working with children who are deaf and hard-of-hearing to develop spoken language through the use of residual hearing, high-powered hearing aids and cochlear implants.
Though Johnson admits she may be biased, she finds Sunshine Cottage’s inclusive learning environment to be beneficial to learners of all abilities.
“Both the deaf or hard-of-hearing kids and the typically-hearing kids learn so much from one another,” Johnson said. In particular, it teaches typically developing students about how to advocate for themselves, something Johnson thinks is currently lacking in most standard learning environments.
“Even if a child is typically developing, it doesn’t mean there won’t be moments when that child needs help or extra support. A lot of kids don’t know how to ask for that, so it’s very beneficial in a setting like Sunshine Cottage that the typically-hearing kids get to see their peers asking for help in a normalized, no-big-deal way.”
Johnson credits her educational experience at Sunshine Cottage for her drive to become an educator herself.
“At Sunshine, the typically-hearing kids are immersed in everybody’s education, so they learn a great deal about hearing loss and the technology and accommodations for it,” Johnson said. “I learned about people with different abilities and about those aspects of special education just from being surrounded by it every day, which is what drew me to pursue special education for my undergrad,” she said. “There are so many different ways to educate and to be an educator, and all the different ways you can accommodate and modify for different abilities, that’s always been fascinating for me.”
Johnson attained her bachelor’s in special education from Northern Illinois University in 2021 and spent time working in public schools as part of her curriculum. But she kept feeling drawn back to the positive experiences she had at Sunshine Cottage and all the opportunities of being an educator in that setting. When she visited her old elementary school to inquire about deaf education, she was introduced to the DEHS program at UT Health San Antonio.
“I think I learned more in the first semester of this program than I did during my entire undergrad,” Johnson said. “I have learned and grown my skillset so much here. It’s meaningful to learn all the strategies and information and then be able to put it into practice right away.”
Because she was already a certified teacher, Johnson was able become a classroom teacher quickly, and she currently teaches second grade at Sunshine Cottage as she completes her master’s degree.
“I’m very grateful for this program because now I’m in my dream career. I wish people knew more about deaf education because it’s a fascinating field to go into, and we need more educators. Deaf education is growing and always changing and evolving, and it feels very meaningful to be part of it.”
The Deaf Education and Hearing Science Program is currently accepting applications for the next cohort through March 5, 2023. Incoming students must have completed a baccalaureate degree in education or a related field.