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CLEARWATER, FL- Entering its tenth year,Blossom Montessori Schoolfor the Deaf in Clearwater has been a “dream come true” for Tampa Bay’s Deaf and hard-of-hearing children and the Deaf community. It’s also been the culmination of a dream for the school’s founder and director, Julie Rutenberg.
Opened in 2003 with just 8 students, Blossom’s student population has grown to nearly 40 students beginning the 2012-13 school year. Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf is one of only two Montessori schools for deaf children in the United Statesand the only one in Florida. The school is for students ages 2 1/2 through 15 who are Deaf or hard of hearing, and children who have a parent or sibling who is deaf. When the school opened, the concept of a Montessori School that tailored its curriculum to the unique educational needs of Deaf students and their family members had never been tried. According to Rutenberg, “Our parents just trusted us and we delivered.”
Prior to Blossom’s creation, the only choices for parents with Deaf or hard-of-hearing children were to keep them in the local public schools or move to St. Augustine so they could attend the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. Rutenberg had the idea for Blossom after she worked with deaf children as an intern in a traditional school. “There were first-graders who couldn’t tell you their alphabet and fifth- graders who couldn’t tell you the days of the week,” she said.
“I had gone to a Montessori school growing up and really benefited from it,” she said. “I thought it would be great to offer the same educational program for deaf children. Deaf students need a very focused educational experience to really succeed and sometimes it’s hard to do that in a traditional school. That’s why we created Blossom and our children thrive in this environment.” Montessori stresses hands-on learning through all of a child’s senses and allows children to learn at their own pace by choosing materials and activities in which they want to participate. When you visit a Montessori classroom, more often than not you’ll find the students sitting and learning on the floor.
The first Deaf President of Gallaudet University has become a good friend and frequent visitor to Blossom. One of the world’s foremost advocates for Deaf education, Dr. I. King Jordan says, “A Deaf person can do anything except hear.” At Blossom the goal is to prove him right every day.
Blossom’s curriculum is tailored to each child, and their communications philosophy is designed to meet the needs of every student with American Sign Language (ASL) being used throughout the school. Instead of grade levels, children are grouped by age: 3- to 6-year-olds; 6- to 9-year-olds; 9- to 12-year-olds; and 12- to 15-year-olds.
“In the real world roughly 80% of Deaf and hard-of-hearing children won’t learn to read beyond the 3rd or 4th grade level,” says Rutenberg. “To me, that’s just not acceptable and we can do something about it, but it takes work.” Just recently, one of Blossom’s middle school students, Lauren Santiago, was one of two Florida winners in the CVS All Kids Can Create Competition sponsored by VSA of Florida and the Kennedy Center for the Arts. This is the second year in the last three that a Blossom student has won among more than 3,000 entries. “Our kids learn, and thrive, and succeed and that’s what makes Blossom special,” says Rutenberg.
“It’s hard to imagine now that a couple of our first students are already in college,” Rutenberg reflected. “ In fact, they both received scholarships and one of them is at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC.” Two of Blossom’s more recent grads have received Florida Pre-Paid College Scholarships from the Chair Scholars Foundation in Tampa and several others are on the honor roll in their high school programs. “One of our grads is on her high school basketball team and is a class officer.”
For more information about Blossom or to learn how you can sponsor a Blossom student’s education, visit www.blossomschool.org or call 727-539-7879.