Her son, Ben, had hearing loss, and she had to move from Charleston, S.C., to St. Louis so he could attend the Central Institute for the Deaf because it was the only school like it in the Southeast. She took a teacher training program to help her son, and moved to Atlanta.
“She was met by scores of other parents saying, ‘My child can’t talk; my child’s deaf. I would do anything to be able to do what your child is [doing],’” said Comer Yates, the school’s current executive director. “She couldn’t rest without knowing other children didn’t have the same opportunity.”
Hamm joined forces with the Junior League of Atlanta to open the school.
“We started as a school where we charge no tuition. … Seventy-five years later, we’ve never turned away a child because of a family financial limitation,” said Yates, of Druid Hills.
Although it has transformed from a one-room building to a large, comprehensive language and literacy center, the mission remains the same, 75 years later.
“Our purpose is to be Atlanta’s speech school that is available to all Atlanta children. … I’m lucky to have my job. To be a steward of this mission is the highest privilege,” Yates said. “Only 18 percent of our children from low-income families in Georgia will ever read on grade level. We are breaking the intergenerational cycle of illiteracy and poverty.”
Third-grade teacher Leigh Record is in her 40th year at the school, but she said she has not done the “same thing” for 40 years.
“Every year is different; every year there is something new to try, to invigorate you,” said Record, of Vinings. “It’s just a place that fosters that curiosity and learning.”
To celebrate the 75th anniversary, the school will host its 39th annual Language and Literacy Gala Sunday at the Capital City Country Club in Brookhaven. “It’s our annual celebration for the work of the school and the legacy of the people who have made this place so important for each child and every child we’ve served,” Yates said. “It raises money for financial aid that allows all families to be here.”
Other events commemorating the milestone throughout the year include a lecture series, a day of service for employees, alumni events and a fun run, all in the spring.
“The celebration is really about 75 years and thousands and thousands of children later, and how we have stayed true to the mission of the school,” Yates said. “When a parent crosses our threshold with his or her child, we accept that as a covenant with us. …The speech school is going to be the time and place where the child finds his or her voice for a lifetime.”