On Bozeman Road in Madison County across from the Madison Heights Church, the Magnolia Speech School is building a state-of-the-art 30,000 square-foot facility.
They’ll be leaving behind a 40-year-old building in west Jackson that is well past its prime.
Established in 1956, Magnolia Speech School has impacted thousands of students and families from every county in Mississippi and as far away as Alaska and Pennsylvania.
The new $12 million facility in Madison is going to be an economic boon for south Madison County. Its relocation will make the school even more attractive to families who are willing to relocate near a school that can accomodate their children’s hearing and communication disabilities.
The new facility will be able to accomodate 110 students, a big increase from the current capacity of 70 at the existing facility. The average tenure of a student is three to four years with a maximum age of 12 years old.
Most of the money was raised with private funds. An outstanding achievement for our community. Many of the most ardent supporters are families who have had children attend the school and understand its importance.
I toured the new facility with Northsiders Kelley and Jean Williams, who have been ardent supporters of the school. Jean has served on the Magnolia board and Jean’s sister Charlotte Bledsoe taught at the school for decades.
Kelley, a mentor, philanthropist and renowned Northside Sun columnist, has a heart-felt interest in the school. Kelley has battled hearing loss over the years. He knows how important hearing is to a person’s well being.
I noticed Kelley’s hearing decline over the years until he got a cochlear implant a few years ago. Now I communicate with Kelley without any thought to his hearing loss. Today, I can’t tell any problem with his hearing.
Cochlear implants use a sound processor that fits behind the ear. It’s about 1.5 inches in diameter. This processor captures sound wave vibrations and sends a signal down electrodes implanted in the heart of the cochlear and also to the auditory nerves.
Since their introduction in the 1970s, over 200,000 people have received cochlear implants. For young children, proper training is critical to its success. That’s what Magnolia does and they do it extremely well. Families come from all over the country so their children can attend the school.
The signals stimulate the auditory nerve, which then directs the signals to the brain. The brain interprets those signals as sounds, though these sounds won't be just like natural hearing.
“At first it sounded like Mickey Mouse talking,” Kelley told me. But over time, the brain adapts and the sounds eventually seem relatively normal.
You have to be very deaf before you can get a cochlear implant because the implantation process usually completely eliminates any remaining natural hearing in the ear in which it’s implanted.
Jackson’s Dr. James House installed Kelley’s cochlear implant as well as many used by young children at the Magnolia School.
Here’s what is truly amazing. Young children born completely deaf can get a cochlear implant, attend Magnolia Speech School and be mainstreamed in four years. They then go on to live perfectly normal lives. Their speech is perfectly normal. The only thing different is the little processor sitting on top of their head behind their ear.
Tears came to my eyes listening to 50 children singing on stage at the old Magnolia School. It was beautiful. The solos were excellent. If I hadn’t known, I would have no idea that these children struggle with hearing loss and communication deficits.
We often talk about the problems of the world and fail to see the miraculous progress right before our eyes. This is one of those miracles.
In 1990, 36 percent of the world’s population lived on less than $2 a day. By 2015, that percent had dropped to 10. We need to see the forest for the trees and be aware that we are living in the middle of the greatest progress in human history. Cochlear implants are just one aspect of this enormous progress in human well being.
Magnolia executive director Valerie Linn was smiling non stop during my tour of the new facility. The difference between the old and new facility was another example of the phenomenal progress in building techniques.
James Meyers and Mayme Warden showed us around the nearly finished building which should be open in a month or two. They are both project managers for the general contractor Brasfield & Gorrie out of Birmingham.
They pointed out dozens of subtle improvements such as tinted windows, a design which conforms to the position of the sun, fiber optic wiring, ductless air conditioning, special soundproofing, modular concrete walls with foam inserted for insulation. On and on. It was mind boggling.
Valerie is the sister of Jamie McNamara, wife of my good friend Will McNamara who handles the medical plan for Emmerich Newspapers. This is what I love about the Northside. Everybody has a connection to everybody. It’s the way a community is supposed to be.
The cost of teaching a deaf child to read is expensive — $30,000. The school supplements 75 percent.
Ironically, there are many in the deaf community who are strongly tied to sign language. It’s their culture, especially if the deaf child comes from deaf parents.
But for most of the one out of one thousand children who are born deaf, the ability to learn to hear and speak normally is a miraculous blessing. Modern medicine and the Magnolia Speech School turn that blessing into a reality.