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NJ Division of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing’s Language Instruction Program Overview

Program Origin

In March of 2017, Leveling the Playing Field (LTPF), began as a pilot program with two deaf toddlers. The first was not a candidate for auditory amplification instruments, and the second had just received bilateral cochlear implants (CI). Despite their differences, bilingualism was the goal for both children and their families. Amy Andersen, their early intervention teacher of the Deaf knew that with bilingualism as the goal, the babies needed sufficient hours of English, spoken and written, and American Sign Language in their daily environments.

Both families received services through NJ Early Intervention twice a week. They learned how to incorporate language into daily routines and interactions with their children. However, like many families, the toddlers’ parent(s) worked full time, and the children spent many hours in daycare. Spoken English was in their environments, but ASL was not; therefore, the children could not achieve bilingualism.

The child who had just received CIs had a year before her implants would fully activate, so naturally, she continued to use and acquire ASL. For the child without access to auditory input, his daycare environment was languageless; therefore, Amy and his mother, Stephanie Renart spent months strongly advocating for a Deaf Language Acquisition Associate to be placed in his daycare classroom even though NJ Early Intervention had never done this. Ultimately, the NJ Department of Health agreed and in 2022, NJ remains the only state in the country to offer this innovative service.

A brave Deaf community member, Carrie Pogue agreed to become the first Deaf Language Acquisition Associate. She began working with the first toddler. A second language associate who also used CIs was placed with the second toddler. After three months, the benefits were so dramatic that the service hours increased from 15 to 25 hours per week. Both children entered kindergarten as thriving bilinguals with a firm foundation in both English and ASL and the families continue to enjoy an ongoing connection with the Deaf community.

Amy, now the 2018 NJ Teacher of the Year, and Deaf colleagues Vicki Joy Sullivan, Christopher Sullivan and Michelle Cline submitted a program proposal to the NJ State Legislature. The proposal was accepted and funded, and the NJ Division for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (NJDHH) formally established LTPF, now the Language Instruction Program. Carrie Pogue is the current Program Coordinator under the supervision of Elizabeth Hill, Director of NJ DDHH. Families throughout New Jersey are entitled to this free service, making it possible for their deaf children to achieve bilingualism, be kindergarten-ready and avoid the potential consequences of language deprivation.

Visit the New Jersey Department of Human Services’ Division of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Language Instruction Services website for more information.