From Melinda Webb School student to teacher, Gracie returned as a Teacher of the Deaf
A graduate of the Melinda Webb School, a school for children who are deaf and hard of hearing, Gracie Baltazar has returned for the 2022-2023 academic school year as a language Teacher of the Deaf. Gracie is excited to begin her new career path teaching toddlers where her own healing journey started.
“It’s like we came back home,” Barbara Baltazar, Gracie’s mother, said. “This was our first everything in Houston.”
Their journey to Houston began in January 1997, at a time when universal newborn hearing screenings were not legally required of hospitals. Consequently, for the first year of Gracie’s life, her family was unaware of her future diagnosis. Gracie was always visually expressive—using facial cues and eye movement to communicate and show her attention—but was delayed in speech. At the insistence of her grandparents, Barbara scheduled an appointment with an ENT clinic in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
At 18 months old, Gracie was diagnosed as profoundly deaf and recommended for enrollment in a residential school for children who are deaf and hard of hearing.
Barbara refused to be separated from her daughter and began looking for alternatives. With the help of a colleague, Barbara found out about Texas Hearing Institute (formerly known as The Center for Hearing and Speech). The next day Barbara gave notice at her job, packed their bags, and moved to Houston to enroll Gracie in the Melinda Webb School. It was during Gracie’s time at the Melinda Webb School that she was fitted with bilateral cochlear implants.
Gracie’s early education and adolescence were especially difficult. She struggled to adjust to her new classmates and teachers and was often labeled the “problem child.”That improved as Gracie’s communication skills and sense of advocacy developed, for which Gracie and her mother credit her teachers.
“Patience goes a long way,” Gracie said.“The teachers were really patient with me at the Melinda Webb School. It was a small environment that allowed them to be more focused and nurturing with me than we found in the public school system. Looking back, this stood out to me as a child because it allowed me to develop a sense of advocacy for myself and other children with hearing loss.”
Gracie has since earned two bachelor’s degrees in Communication Disorders and Psychology and is in the process of earning a master’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Houston.
In her new role as a language Teacher of the Deaf, Gracie has already used her unique life experiences to advise and guide her colleagues on how to better understand the feelings and habits children with hearing loss often experience. One example happened earlier this year when a student was going through the routine of self-soothing without their hearing aids turned on.
“There are things that hearing people ask me that I never even thought about,” Gracie said. “I’ve told everyone that there is no such thing as a stupid, silly question. Ask me anything.”
It was this deep-rooted sense of advocacy and desire to help and educate others that continually motivated Gracie to pursue a career working with children who are deaf and hard of hearing.
“I didn’t realize how comfortable I would be here, in a workplace,” Gracie said.“Not everyone gets to have that. It was a good surprise for me.”