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The Children's Center for Communication: Focusing on Alternative Communication Systems

September 2010

The Beverly School for the Deaf, one of the oldest schools of its kind in the country, was established in 1876 as an industrial trade school for deaf children. Fifty years later it had evolved into a nonprofit institution focused on oral language skills. Another 50 years and the school had expanded its mission to include children with developmental and language disabilities. Soon the rate of change accelerated, and the school faced serious viability concerns due to more complicated medical and learning needs, changes in teaching philosophies, and fewer deaf children.

Enrollment hit a new low in 2004 with only 23 students, forcing some tough decisions. Mark Carlson was brought in as executive director to redefine their strategic mission through staff changes, business resource management, and a return to American Sign Language as a primary teaching philosophy. Soon the school recovered and with help from a committed staff and board, enrollment and attitude improved.

The transformation continued as the school worked with the Department of Education to rebrand itself as the Children's Center for Communication to officially name the larger program that assists kids with disabilities like autism or cerebral palsy. This focus on alternative communication systems addressed new challenges in teaching and health care while serving cities and towns struggling with revenue and cost-cutting concerns.

The school needed to grow to survive and began courting different banks, but most did not understand their unique challenges. One bank that did was Salem Five. "They took the time to understand where we were headed with tuition trends and student enrollment rates," Carlson says. Salem Five led a multi-bank consortium that generated financing for a 30,000-square-foot building that will include 13 classrooms, a cafeteria, library, and dedicated music and art spaces. The new building will have an improved American with Disabilities (ADA) design with smartboards and natural lighting.

Salem Five understood that the Children's Center for Communication was now serving more kids with more needs, and helped them become a growing, sustainable institution. "The personalized touch of people like John Hall, Bob Kelley, and Gordon Massey at Salem Five has really made it a seamless process," Carlson says. "We want to be able to support a child in ways that do not impact a city or town and make the best use of funding streams. The support we have received financially from Salem Five and the entire community, including local businesses and foundations, has made all the difference."

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