skip to main content
Main Site Navigation
Top of main content

Local family values compassion, inclusivity at Carle Auditory Oral School

Local family values compassion, inclusivity at Carle Auditory Oral School
Bess Wolff enjoys taking an active role in her community, whether it’s her neighborhood association, stewarding Little Free Libraries or sitting on the board of the nonprofit Illinois Hands and Voices. Wolff, who lives in Champaign with her husband Ted and their four-year-old Marshall, have been a part of the community for nearly ten years.

However, there is one community organization she says you may not know about unless you need it.

When Bess and Ted noticed that then one-and-a-half year old Marshall wasn’t talking as much as he should, their pediatrician referred them to a hearing test. This is where they learned of Marshall’s hearing loss and the resources available to them through Carle Auditory and Oral School (CAOS).

“We enrolled Marshall in the preschool program at CAOS off the recommendation of the audiologist who mentioned it to us,” Wolff said. “We noticed the small classroom size, individual attention and tailored lesson plans for each student’s needs. We knew they would get to know our child so well.”

CAOS, an Illinois State Board of Education approved school program serving preschool through second grade students, provides a nurturing, family-centered environment that supports children with hearing loss and normal hearing in reaching their communication and learning potential.

139510810_10159014457912899_5921267384072957537_n.jpgThe school operates on an 11 month calendar, beginning in early August through late June. Children participate in 200 school days, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with aftercare and beforecare offered to those who need it. Many of the teachers at CAOS hold masters degrees and special licensures in education for those with hearing loss.

“Marshall has access to a sensory room, daily speech therapy and the clinical team at Carle’s Expanding Children’s Hearing Opportunities (ECHO) program. These are things that many schools don’t have,” Wolff said.

Danielle Chalfant, director, Carle Auditory Oral School says that while the individualized approach and access to clinical resources are a benefit, the involvement of parents is something that many families find to be a major benefit to the school.

“We strive to be responsive to child and family needs and have an active parent-teacher association,” Chalfant said. “When we discover that something isn’t working well, we quickly assemble the team to identify possible solutions and decide on a path to improve the situation. We don’t wait until next semester or next school year to improve the situation.”

For Bess, watching Marshall cross learning milestones and seeing him achieve his fullest potential alongside his classmates is rewarding.

“Marshall used to only have one word, ‘go’, but now, we’ve had to stop counting,” Wolff said. “Because of CAOS, he knows ways to communicate and interact with other children. He wouldn’t be where he is at without this school.”

Some may see the school as something only available to children with hearing loss, however CAOS enrolls students with typical hearing as well—an opportunity that Bess feels could bring major benefits for those looking for a new environment for their child.

Learning alongside children who are deaf and hard of hearing offers children a unique perspective during the early childhood years when empathy and awareness of others is developing. 

“You’re introducing your children with typical hearing to children who are deaf and hard of hearing. It’s an environment that emphasizes equality,” Wolff said. “It’s teaching students inclusion, diversity and compassion. You’re really teaching them to be better human beings.”

Chalfant also notes that all children who are deaf or hard of hearing are eligible for enrollment, despite any delays in communication or other challenges they face.

For many of the students, they are able to leave CAOS with academic skills beyond their grade level because teachers can provide the time and materials for the children to follow their passions. The convenience of being located next to Carle Foundation Hospital and the University also makes the school a convenient, centralized location for busy families.

“The school was developed based on the needs of children who are deaf and hard of hearing, but that isn’t why it works,” Chalfant noted. “It works because of the interactions between those who are deaf and hard of hearing and those with typical hearing. That partnership is what truly makes this school so unique and successful for our students.”

Bess encourages those who are curious about the school to explore how the school might be a good fit for their family.

“The quality of education you get at CAOS is unparalleled to anything else you will find in our community,” Wolff said. “We can’t say enough good things about this school.”

CAOS is accepting applications for both children who are deaf and hard of hearing and children who are typically developing for August 2021. To learn more and to see if your child might be a good candidate for enrollment, visit or call (217) 326-2824 to speak to someone at the school.

Categories: Community

Tags: “hearing, audiology, CAOS, ECHO, loss”, school