Avani will attend University of Central Florida’s (UCF) Honors College this fall, a decade and a half after she attended Early Intervention and Preschool Programs at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech where she learned to listen and talk. Avani has a bilateral hearing loss that was discovered when she was 10 months old, shortly after her family moved to Florida from India. She uses listening and spoken language to communicate and wears cochlear implants to help access sound.
“Participating in College Signing Day and celebrating the successes of Clarke alums, like Avani, is a great way to recognize that we are proud of their hard work, invested in their futures and excited to see what they will do next,” explains Judy Sexton, chief program officer at Clarke. “Our aim is to equip students with the skills they need to succeed academically and socially.”
Clarke joins a network of over 3,000 College Signing Day celebrations nationwide on May 1. Former First Lady Michelle Obama started College Signing Day as part of the Reach Higher initiative — to inspire every student in the U.S. to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school, whether at a professional training program, a community college or a four-year college or university.
While no student’s path is the same, many Clarke alums, like Avani, are committed to advancing their education beyond high school. Avani has seen the pandemic turn every aspect of the senior experience upside down. For the majority of the school year her classes and extracurricular clubs were remote. But despite challenging odds, she has continued to soar academically and socially.
“Having a good group of friends has really helped me — especially throughout the pandemic. We didn’t have an official prom that was sponsored by the school, so my friend and I had a pandemic-friendly one at home,” explains Avani. “This summer, before moving for college, I’m really looking forward to having the flexibility to go back to work at a tutoring center where I tutor younger students in math and I’m excited to hang out with friends.”
Avani is enrolled in her high school’s International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, a rigorous two-year program dedicated to curriculum and service. She’s a member of the National Honor Society, Hispanic Honor Society, Interact Club and participated in her high school’s orchestra. She plans to major in computer science at UCF and has been accepted into COMPASS — a program that helps undergraduate students explore career options in STEM-related fields.
“Computer science is a broad major and I’m still deciding exactly what aspect of the field I’d like to focus on,” explains Avani. “My dad is an IT Architect and introduced me to the field. I started taking basic Word and Excel classes in middle school and currently I’m taking two programming classes. College allows more flexibility in classes — and I’m really looking forward to that.”
For students who are deaf or hard of hearing entering college, there are a variety of accommodations that can improve their access. What works best will depend on the individual student’s needs, their preferences and each specific listening environment. Avani recommends emailing a school’s disability resource center to form a personal connection and see what accommodations they have available.
“Avani continues to amaze us! She started exceeding our expectations as a toddler and continues to do so in high school. She makes us very proud,” notes Geeta Shandilya, Avani’s mom and a teacher of the deaf at Clarke. “As a parent and a professional, I see every day the limitless possibilities for children who are deaf or hard of hearing. We will always be grateful to all the professionals who have supported Avani’s growth and who have helped her reach where she is today.”