FIRST YEARS > Project History
As more and more deaf and hard-of-hearing children are served in inclusive settings, speech pathologists, special educators, and other professionals are called upon to provide intervention services.  Although experienced in their respective disciplines, many of these professionals lack specialized educational preparation related to the needs of children with hearing loss and their families. 

As chairperson of  the Financial Aid Awards Committee for the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Sandra Aldrich was challenged  to design an accessible professional development project to meet the needs of these professionals. Aldrich was referred to Carolyn Brown, then director of Carolina Children's Communicative Disorders Program (CCCDP) at the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

The Carolina Children's Communicative Disorders Program (CCCDP) includes the Center for Acquisition of Spoken Language Through Listening Enrichment (C.A.S.T.L.E.).  The C.A.S.T.L.E. programs provide clinical and preschool services to children, as well as continuing education through 1) summer institute programs in the auditory-verbal/listening and spoken language (LSL) approach and 2) professional internships designed to provide practical experience in LSL interventions. 

Brown and Aldrich invited the collaboration of UNC's Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences which has, for over 30 years, provided graduate education in audiology and speech-language pathology. The Division also co-founded the Carolina Consortium for Distance Education in Communication Sciences and Disorders, a successful program designed to serve the continuing education needs of working professionals. 

In the spring of 2000, Brown and Aldrich developed a collaborative project proposal and submitted it to a national foundation that supports auditory learning and spoken language programs for children with hearing loss.  The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing received the funding and formed a collaboration with the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to design and implement the project, a comprehensive program of continuing education professional development geared to the needs of experienced professionals working with young children with a hearing loss. Thus, FIRST YEARS was born. Laurie Cochenour became the first Program Director of FIRST YEARS

In November 2003, UNC approved the "Certificate in Auditory Learning in Young Children with Hearing Loss." The first cohort of students began in August 2004. FIRST YEARS continues to enroll a new class of students annually. 

In September 2008, Laurie Cochenour stepped down and Kathryn Wilson  became the new FIRST YEARS Program Director.

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Alexander Graham Bell Association | UNC-CH Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences

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