NEW PORT RICHEY — The handwritten sign on the portable classroom door says "Quiet Please." That can be a difficult task for antsy youngsters who are lined up along an outdoor walkway at Mittye P. Locke Elementary School.
Inside, where conversation is kept to whispers, Peggy Macedi, 77, a volunteer with the Sertoma Speech and Hearing Foundation, gestures for the next kid to come forward — a tow-headed kindergartner with a sweet disposition named Caden Graham.
Macedi is going to put a set of headphones on, she tells him, speaking gently into his ear. And when he hears the beep, he should raise his hand.
The test takes a minute or two. Then, Caden, 5, is sent on his way with a quick smile and sticker in hand.
This is worthy work for Macedi. She wears a hearing aid and knows what's it's like not to be able to catch a conversation.
"We've been able to help so many children who didn't pass the test," said Macedi, who signed on after entering retirement 10 years ago because her grandmother was a deaf/mute and because she just likes working with kids. "Anything we do for the kids is wonderful, I think."
For 18 years, the nonprofit Sertoma foundation has conducted hearing screenings for kindergarten and sixth-grade students, as well as for those who are new to the counties the foundation serves. At Locke Elementary, it was part of an all-day health screening for students in kindergarten through Grade 3.
Last year, Sertoma staffers and volunteers administered hearing screenings for more than 16,000 Pasco County students at 74 schools, said executive director Debra Golinski.
"Early detection is the key to success for these kids. The earlier we catch it, the earlier we can amplify them and help get them to services they need, the quicker they are on the path to success," Golinski said. "Children sometimes are harder to diagnose because they are good at compensating.
"A few years ago, we identified a child that was completely deaf in one ear but had learned to compensate so well that know one knew. We were able to identify him and get him on the right path," she said, adding that students who fail the initial screening are rescreened by a speech language pathologist and connected with services at the Sertoma Hearing and Speech Center on Rowan Road.
Educational and financial assistance for services is provided on a sliding scale to families with minor children, from newborn to 18 years of age in Florida, through the Sertoma Children's Hearing Help Fund. Services include hearing evaluations, loaner hearing devices, permanent hearing devices and the ongoing maintenance and replacement of devices, if necessary.
Other services include a hearing aid recycling program and a hearing aid battery giveaway for adults, a family support group and a swimming safety program for hard-of-hearing children.
Sertoma has taken the screenings on the road, literally, after the August purchase of a mobile screening and audiology services van, complete with a soundproof room, to take to local day care centers. Plans are in the works to take the van into rural areas to provide services to those who are destitute or residentially challenged, Golinski said.
"We're growing and expanding services with the van in 23 (Florida) counties," she said. "It's a big initiative, but we are happy to do it."