Sarah Ammerman, MED, PhD, never thought she would end up at the Smith College/Clarke School Graduate Program in Teacher Education. But the minute she stepped into her first classroom with children with hearing loss, her mind was made up.
As an undergraduate at Eastern Kentucky University, Ammerman had developed a strong background in comprehensive deaf education. At the time, many families were beginning to pursue a listening and spoken language approach and her advisor suggested that she learn more about the field. Right away, she made an appointment to visit Clarke and meet with professor Alan Marvelli and then Clarke president, Dennis Gjerdingen.
“The sounds of the students talking, joking, and playing hit me over the head. I had never heard deaf kids who sounded like this before. I had never seen deaf kids reading on grade level. I knew that working with these children was what I wanted to do.”
After earning a Master’s degree in Deaf Education from the Smith/Clarke program in 2002, Ammerman went to work at Clarke’s Bryn Mawr, PA location. Memories of her first classroom experiences are very dear to her. She says that it was particularly rewarding to be a part of the (then) first auditory/oral school in the area something that parents had been hoping for, for a long time.
Now in its 41st year, the internationally acclaimed Smith/Clarke M.E.D. Program has trained more than 1400 teachers of the deaf, working in all 50 states and 34 countries. The program focuses on a listening and spoken language approach for children with hearing loss who use cochlear implants and/or hearing aids. Students work with children at several academic levels, from preschool through middle school, both in the classroom and in the communication lab. They also have unique opportunities to develop personal relationships with children by participating in special school events, and students can participate in practica at four Clarke School locations in the Northeast. Although all M.E.D. students are required to be on the Smith campus in Northampton, MA during the two summer semesters, during the school year they have the option of attending classes in real-time via synchronous video technology. These students conduct their practica from Clarke’s Boston and Pennsylvania campuses.
Ammerman believes that it was partly due to the important connections she made while at Smith and Clarke that helped her earn a fully funded position in a prestigious doctoral program at the University of Arizona. She credits many of her professors in Northampton for consistently encouraging her to collaborate with colleagues and present at regional conferences. In 2009 after five rigorous years, she graduated with a Ph.D. in Special Education, with a focus on deaf education and audiology.
Today, Dr. Ammerman works at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio as an Assistant Professor in a program for teachers of the deaf. She has a fierce passion for her work and is constantly striving to stay ahead of the current research and provide her students with the most up to date curricula. She is also proud to still be a practitioner and, for at least six hours every week, works at a language lab with children of all ages. She values this time greatly, as it allows her to draw on direct experience in addition to academic theory when teaching.
Ammerman is also proud of her involvement in the Professional Preparation in Cochlear Implants (PPCI) program run by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. PPCI is an intensive 8-week training program specifically for professionals who don’t have recent training or experience working with children who use listening and spoken language. This work of keeping practitioners up to speed on the latest audiological principles stems from her education at Clarke.
“At Clarke,” she says, “the teachers continually underscored the fact that in order to be a good professional, continued growth throughout your career is a must. I couldn’t agree more.”