New Jersey's School For The Deaf's Katzenbach Campus Seeks To Upgrade Facilities
The Times of Trenton-New Jersey
by Samantha Costa
January 13, 2012
EWING — Softspoken Ryan Smith, 17, of Trenton has lived at the New Jersey School for the Deaf’s Katzenbach campus since he was in the first grade. Until he received hearing aids through the Olive Osmond Perpetual Hearing Fund last year, he had never heard the tick of a clock, he said.
Smith is hard-of-hearing, and he comes from a deaf family, but he has chosen to stay on campus because of the friends he’s made there.
“Everyone knows each other,” Smith said.
“I came here, and I became successful,” the teenager said of his experience at the Katzenbach campus.
Smith recently received his driver’s license, and he wants to go to Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and pursue a career in the medical field.
It’s for students like Smith that the Katzenbach staff is looking to make improvements to the 148-acre campus, where some buildings are more than a century old. But without proper funding, the staff said, it can’t be done.
“It’s unusable for the most part because they just don’t have the funding to renovate the building,” said Donna Kelly, event director for Jersey’s Hope for Hearing, an advocacy group for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. The physical condition of the school has fallen through the cracks when it comes to state funding, Kelly said.
One of the problems at the Katzenbach campus is that the heating in the dorm and a couple of other buildings can’t be turned off. Superintendent Angel Ramos said it costs the school roughly $700,000 each year for electricity and $1 million for heat. To offset those costs, Ramos said he hopes to develop a solar-panel field within the next year or two.
“We have the vacant land just sitting there,” he said.
Among other limitations on campus, the library is currently closed due to delayed inspections from the fire marshal. The only auditorium also acts as a gymnasium in the elementary/middle school building. The outdoor track consists of gravel and dirt. Walkways are poorly lit at night, though the school does have a 24-hour security service.
Ramos said it would cost $100,000 just to come up with a concept plan for renovations to present to the state in a request for funding.
Through it all, there’s a camaraderie at the Katzenbach campus that seems to sustain the residents and staff, many of whom are former students.
“It’s really what’s driving the whole school,” Kelly said of the spirit on campus. “The kids are very happy.”
Students at Katzenbach learn academic, social and communication skills from teachers who say the atmosphere is more that of a family than of a school.
The school offers day and residential programs and educational services for deaf and hard-of-hearing students ages 3 to 21. It also offers a parent-infant program, a nursery school, elementary school, middle school and high school.
Of the 165 students on campus, 95 are high school age, and 73 students live there. They come from school districts across the state and from Pennsylvania.
“When students come here, this is their family. They’re the same as everybody else,” Ramos said. “This school is all about choices. Deaf children, they deserve that choice.”
With the help of Jersey’s Hope for Hearing and the Olive Osmond Perpetual Hearing Fund, the school is planning a series of events, culminating in a big fundraiser Oct. 13 to pay for some of its needs.
A book drive sometime in March will help supply the library with books.
On Oct. 11, there will be a karate kick-a-thon, a celebrity meet-and-greet with Justin Osmond — a son of Merrill and Mary Osmond — and a silent auction event Oct. 12.
The fundraiser on Oct. 13 will include a benefit run, face-painting and pony rides for kids, and more than 250 food vendors selling their wares. Justin Osmond, who is deaf, will award hearing aids to students.