Sheri Farmer couldn’t afford hearing aids. So her students at Valley High School gave her a down payment.
Sheri Farmer was bustling down the hallway at Valley High School taking a laptop to get fixed when two girls stopped her and said they needed to talk. They said it was personal.
This was late April, and Farmer, who’s been a paraprofessional at Valley since 2010, was used to students confiding their problems in her. She pulled the students into a classroom and asked if they were OK.
But this time the girls were here to support Farmer, not the other way around.
Farmer is legally deaf, and the hearing aids she needed cost upward of $5,000, more than she could afford. The girls were part of Valley’s FFA program, which gives money to worthy causes in the community. This year, their cause was giving Farmer a down payment on her hearing aids. The girls handed Farmer a check for $900.
“It was so moving,” said Farmer, who has a hard time not crying every time she tells this story. “It just gets me every time.”
Farmer is a Valley lifer. She started attending Platteville Elementary School in second grade and graduated from Valley. Her daughter graduated from Valley. She started working as the cafeteria supervisor at South Valley Middle School in 1998.
After she got her associate degree in early childhood education from Front Range Community College, Farmer became a substitute teacher all over the Valley Re-1 School District. In 2010, she started working in the high school as a paraprofessional, mostly with special-needs students, though she helps in other classrooms as needed.
It was in one of those classrooms, in 2015, when a teacher Farmer worked with noticed Farmer was responding to people with “Huh?” or “What?” or “Pardon me?” with increasing frequency.
She encouraged Farmer to get her ears checked. Farmer did.
Tests revealed Farmer was nearly 65 percent deaf in both ears. She could hear vowels, she said, but couldn’t distinguish consonants. T and D sounded the same. So did S and F. She’d have to tell people to speak loudly and look at her so she could read their lips.
Farmer also had tinnitus, the high-pitched ringing in the ears that’s exacerbated by loud noises. When Farmer’s classrooms got loud when a lot of kids started talking, the ringing crescendoed until it felt like someone had jammed a steak knife into her ear. Farmer could scrunch her face and try to pop her ears, like you do when a plane is taking off, but it barely worked.
At first, Farmer was down on herself. She thought her deafness was her fault, even though she knew she never went to too many concerts or listened to music or the TV too loudly. Her special-needs students helped her excise that mindset — kids whose social, emotional or cognitive abilities were different from the general population through no fault of their own. Kids Farmer loves for who they are.
“If I’m working in special-ed, I have to accept I am how I am,” Farmer said. The hearing loss was genetic. Her father dealt with similar challenges.
Farmer’s insurance paid for her hearing tests but didn’t cover hearing aids. And she didn’t have $5,000 in her back pocket to drop on them. She looked into participating in hearing-loss studies and applied for grants, but nothing came through.
So Farmer started saving up for a down payment and did her job the best she could. Her students would be protective of her when a new kid came to class, making sure the new kids knew Farmer was deaf and knew not to get so boisterous to trigger her tinnitus. And they’re patient with her when she asks them to repeat something.
“They make me feel like I’m doing a good job,” Farmer said.
That was Farmer’s life for the past three years — dealing with it. Then, this school year, a Valley freshman named Jordan Rudd had Farmer as a paraprofessional in her English class. Rudd thought a lot about how nice and warm Farmer was, how she was always there to help with matters personal and academic, how she always seemed to put students’ needs before her own, how much better she made Rudd’s English class.
Rudd also was part of Valley’s FFA, which was looking to support worthy causes in the Valley community. At a meeting, students threw around various places. Then Rudd spoke up and told the group they should give it to someone in their own building they all know and love. The group agreed and cut the check. Then they gave it to Farmer that April day.
Farmer broke down in tears when she processed what had happened. She broke down in tears when she told another teacher about it. When she went into Valley’s athletic director’s office to tell him about it, her face was so red, her eyes so bleary he thought something was seriously wrong.
Farmer has spent her time since trying to find a way to adequately thank Valley’s FFA for what it did for her. She commissioned a plaque for them from Valley’s shop (they refused to let her pay for labor or materials). She went to an FFA meeting and tearfully thanked the members.
She hasn’t had the chance to buy her hearing aids yet because of a hectic end to the school year and prolonged jury duty, but she started shopping once school got out. More than anything, she can’t wait until she has them in, until she can tell which consonants are which, until she doesn’t feel the intense pain of tinnitus. Until a student says something snarky and she can turn around and say, “I heard that!”
Source: greeleytribune.com, story by Tommy Wood,(who covers education and Evans city government for The Tribune).
Image credit: Joshua Polson
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