celebrate education - brought to you by the amarillo globe-news

No fear in top grad

By Karen Smith Welch

Berklee Jones can read a lot in the slightest movement.

The 18-year-old Tascosa High School senior intensely focuses on those around her, reading their lips and body language to fill gaps in what she hears them say.

"I've kind of adapted," she said. "I figure it out."

The hearing loss Jones has known throughout her life can't be markedly helped with a simple increase in volume.

"Berklee has a neurosensory loss," her mother, Sue Callender, said. "She can't hear beginning and ending sounds."

Callender recalled hearing, for the first time, what her daughter hears when one of the many specialists who has worked with Jones over the years played a recording that mimics the sounds her daughter can pick up - and then tested Callendar's comprehension.

"I got one out of 10 words right," Callender said. "I'd like to do that again, even now - to remember."

Jones' battle to acquire what many take for granted - language - has been hard fought.

"Children born with a hearing loss don't hear the language, so they don't learn it," Wanda Milburn said.

Milburn, who holds a Ph.D. in hearing science, worked with Jones as part of her job with the Regional Program for the Deaf based in Amarillo.

"Not only do (deaf students) have to learn the language, but since they don't hear speech, they have to be taught how to develop their speech sounds," she said. "They have to learn speech reading, which is really an art in which the child is taught to regard the teachers face to figure out what phonings (sounds) are being used. Only about half the phonings have unique mouth positions."

Jones entered the program as a toddler, Milburn said.

"She is the ideal kind of child for us to have in our program because she has always been very self-willed," Milburn said. "She likes to choose her own course."

That course brought her from the low grades she struggled with in elementary and middle school to admittance into the National Honor Society at Tascosa.

A number of people have been involved in Jones' success, Callender said.

"Nobody let her fall, that's for sure," Callender said.

Jones will walk at Tascosa's commencement ceremony on May 31 wearing the red rope that signifies a grade-point average of 90 or higher and the white rope that shows she has completed the recommended diploma plan required by the state.

Jones has lettered in academics two years in a row, and has received the Joni Whitlock Memorial Scholarship and a National Honor Society scholarship to Amarillo College.

"I think she is very focused and hard-working, and I've never met anybody like her," Callender said.

Callender said her daughter has let little stand in the way of participating in whatever she wanted. She has been involved throughout high school in Student Council, was voted Class Favorite for three of four years, and spent two years as a cheerleader.

Both laughed when Callender described the cheerleading experience as "horrible, if you can imagine all the background noise in a gym. ... If something was flying at her, a ball, it's going to hit her."

"I always tend to get hit by things," Jones conceded with more laughter.

Jones works with children enrolled in an after-school program at Carver Elementary Academy provided by Camp Fire USA Panhandle Plains Council and AISD.

"I love it," she said. "I love being around kids."

Jones is leaning toward studying nuclear medicine in college, due to an interest in science.

"I'm just sure that whatever she elects to do in college, she's going to do well, because she's certainly self motivated," Milburn said.

Celebrate Education is a yearlong community project to encourage lifelong learning and help raise the education level in the Texas Panhandle.

calendar of events
  • January 11
    Kickoff of 2009 Program
    Find out what Celebrate Education is all about in this special section in your Sunday paper.
  • March 7
    Regional Spelling Bee, West Texas A&M University
    The annual Regional Spelling Bee will feature the top spellers from the Amarillo area. The top five winners will receive scholarship money ranging from $500 to $5,000 and the winner will travel to Washington, D.C., in June to represent the area in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
  • Spring and Fall
    Amarillo Reads community-wide reading projects.
    Dates and details TBA
  • April
    Amarillo Education Matching Grants Program. Exact date TBA
  • April 10
    What's a Kid to Do Special Section
  • April 12
    What's a Kid to Do at the Amarillo Civic Center
    This event will focus on activities and camps for children to participate in during the summer..
  • May 8-29
    Beating the Odds
    A series of stories published daily in the Amarillo Globe-News during the graduation season that profiles people who have inspiring stories to tell about the degree they are about to receive.
  • May 12
    Ready for the Real World program at Amarillo Civic Center
    AISD juniors get training on what's going to face them in a little more than a year.
  • May 16
    Best and Brightest Special Section
  • May 16
    Best and Brightest Event at West Texas A&M University
  • Fall
    Discover College Day
    Fifth graders from area schools visit college campuses.
  • October 1
    Great Jobs Special Section
    Focusing on well paying jobs available in the area that people may not know about.
  • November 2
    Career Education Special Section
    Focusing on businesses and others in the community helping young people gain a career vision.
  • November
    Yes You Can Event
    Designed to help people gain information about the next level of education from GED to PhD. Date TBA.
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