HUNTINGTON - There are no lengths Sandy Surface won't go to in order to help her granddaughter, 5-year-old Kendall Jarvis, get the best education she can.

For the past year, Surface has gone the distance of 120 miles round trip, three days a week from her and Jarvis' hometown in Big Chimney, West Virginia, just northeast of Charleston, so Jarvis can receive listening and language therapy at the Luke Lee Listening, Language and Learning Lab at Marshall University.

Commonly referred to as "The L," the lab has existed on the third floor of Smith Hall at Marshall, and on Wednesday lab staff and students received a visit from West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Michael Martirano, Deputy Superintendent Cindy Daniels, Delegate Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, and Marshall President Jerome Gilbert.

The visit was part of an attempt by lab staff and Rohrbach to receive support from the state education department and the West Virginia Legislature in eventually taking the lab statewide to share its preschool program catered to teach infants, toddlers and children with hearing loss to use listening and spoken language through the use of cochlear implants.

"When we have programs that are serving the needs of the state, it's important to be able to duplicate that all over the state," Gilbert said. "If there's a need and we can find the funding, the people and the power, we need to take those programs out to those who need them."

The thought of having a lab closer to home was something Surface described as being tremendously helpful to her daughter, granddaughter and students throughout the state.

"It wouldn't matter the distance, but it would be more convenient," said Surface, who brings Jarvis to the lab while her daughter is at work. "For her to do as well as she has, I don't mind the drive. The two years she went to preschool, she did learn, but the first month she was here, she learned so much more. I'm not putting down the preschool program (in Kanawha County), but it wasn't set for Kendall. This is a program that is needed."

The program was founded in the third floor of Smith Hall in 2006, and it specifically provides therapy to children who have cochlear implants, which are electronic devices that provide sound signals to the brains of those who use them. The implants are surgically inserted, and children as young as infants can receive them.

"This is a medical advance that we've got to figure out the best way to integrate it into our education system," said Rohrbach, a practicing gastroenterologist. "What they're doing (at the lab) is teaching people how to use the cochlear implant, the signal they get and how to turn that into speaking. That's why it's more than seeing my ear, nose and throat colleague and getting surgery. It starts there, but you have to get this instruction manual, so to speak, to make it really work."

The lab serves between 25 and 30 students each academic year. It previously received $175,000 annually from the state of West Virginia, via a budget item through the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.

In the budget that was approved by the Legislature in June, the lab experienced a 40 percent funding cut, and lab staff expect to get between $102,000 and $105,000 for fiscal year 2017, which began July 1.

"I can't tell you how many times we've been to the Capitol and invited to certain events where people are asking us how long we've been open or what it is that we do," said Cherese Lee, a co-founder of the lab and mother of the lab's namesake. "We're about to turn 10, and people still don't know what we do here."

In getting the word out about the lab and garnering support for it, Lee and audiologist Jodi Cottrell said they're eager to make sure parents know this is an option that exists for their children who are hearing impaired, and they aren't seeking to put other systems, like the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind, out of business.

Instead, Cottrell said the goal is to take the program, like other successful programs in St. Louis and Philadelphia, and custom tailor it to West Virginia.

"St. Louis is a city. Philadelphia is a city, so we have to look at it in a completely different way," Cottrell said. "My vision is we have our program like we have here. They have preschool here three days a week, and we like the other two days for them to go to other preschools."

In the long run, Cottrell wants to use the state's Regional Education Service Agency locations to spread the program.

As for the immediate next step, lab staff members have their hearts set on a preschool in Charleston. There already is a lab therapist offering home visits in Charleston during what they hope is an interim time until the lab has a home in Kanawha County.

Martirano, who talked one-on-one with lab staff and its young students, said he left the lab with a positive view on what's being offered there, and he encouraged staff to make an immediate plan that could be processed in time for consideration during the 2017 legislative session.

"In talking with the students, I quickly saw a high level of confidence, a high ability to communicate and a great potential in terms of their abilities," Martirano said. "They didn't know who we were, and they were able to sit and talk with us and communicate what they were doing in the classroom, and I was very proud and happy about that."

Support 'The L'

HUNTINGTON - The Luke Lee Listening, Language and Learning Lab is turning 10 years old, and it's doing it in style.

With the 10th anniversary of the lab, known as "The L," coming on the heels of budget cuts from the state, the lab is hosting "The L Speakeasy Gala" fundraising event at 6 p.m. Oct. 21 at the Maylon House in Milton.

The evening will include cocktails, a silent auction and a keynote address from Cherese Lee, parent co-founder of the lab and mother of the lab's namesake.

In the spirit of the speakeasy scene, guests are encouraged to dress in their most dapper 1920s apparel, if they're so inclined, to enjoy the evening that also will include two hours of music and dancing.

For more information, call 304-696-3455.


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