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Brattleboro school for the deaf and hard of hearing set to close - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Brattleboro school for the deaf and hard of hearing set to close

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BRATTLEBORO, Vt. - Since 1908 the Austine School has been working with students who are deaf and hard of hearing. Now that tradition is slated to come to an end -- but students and staff hope it's not for good.

Sirena Caputi's a seventh-grader at the Austine School in Brattleboro. "It is a good school for deaf and hard of hearing students," said Caputi.

She's been coming to the K-12 programs on the campus of the Vermont Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing for 10 years. "I like socializing with a lot of friends. I like playing outside -- everything," said Caputi.

Here kids work in small classes to tackle the basics like science, art, gym and math. They team up with professionals to address some of their special needs. "We have good classroom teachers. They teach us everything that we need to know," said Caputi.

In Ms. Sherry Tychsen's speech class Caputi and her friend Chloe Hughes go back and forth tackling the challenges that come along with speaking when you are deaf or hard of hearing. Today adjectives were on the agenda.

"I like to wear my bright blue galoshes when it is raining -- I like to wear my bright blue galoshes when it is raining," said Ms. Tychsen.

But sadly for Caputi, Hughes and their classmates, their time at Austine is coming to an end. "I'm depressed," said Hughes.

After more than 100 years in business the school will close this spring. "I know I feel very badly for the staff, the students -- everyone has to move away, look for new jobs," said Caputi.

President Bill Gurney says enrollment has dropped from a high of nearly 150 students in the 70s to just 20 today. He says as technology and teaching practices change. More families are choosing to keep their kids with hearing challenges in their hometown schools. "The number of schools we served in their home schools were limited, but it's generally switched with cochlear implants and other means of technology, where students can function within their own classroom," said Gurney.

Gurney says Austine was operating with a $9 million budget just about decade ago. Now he says the space runs on about $7 million a year, money he says the school no longer has. "The programs are expensive to run because of the number of staff involved and being a residential program 7 days a week, for some of those students, the costs can be extraordinary," said Gurney.

Austine administrators are working to find new placements for their kids and the 35 teachers who have kept this place running.

These girls are not sure where they'll head next but know for sure what they'll miss most. "I really enjoy being with the students here, we really have fun with each other, hanging around with each other," said Hughes.

Gurney hopes that can happen again. His team has plans to look at ways to modernize the campus and expand the types of students they teach. The goal is to open the school again with a larger student body and new hands-on career training opportunities. "Our hope is that we will have those folks back here in two years -- either working or as students," said Gurney.

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