This summer, The Children’s Center for Communication/Beverly School for the Deaf (CCCBSD) was excited to have Dr. Amy Szarkowski join the team as the new Clinical Director. Amy’s main role is supervising and supporting the school’s clinical team. With her extensive background in Deaf education, she has spent the beginning of her tenure at CCCBSD, exploring the best ways to utilize her abilities to support the staff, the students, and the school.
For the past eleven years, Amy has worked for Boston Children’s Hospital as a psychologist and a Fellow in Psychology in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program. This experience, she believes, has prepared her greatly for working with the population of students at CCCBSD. At Boston Children’s Hospital, she saw children with lots of different and unique needs, especially with reduced hearing and medical complexities. Currently, she maintains a position in the hospital’s Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities program (LEND), which is a federally funded program for individuals who want to learn more about working with children with disabilities and other special health care needs and their families.
Amy is also an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in the Department of Psychiatry, and teaches online at Gallaudet University in a program called Infants, Toddlers, and Families. This program educates those who want to become early-interventionists or work as early-childhood educators with Deaf or Hard of Hearing children. Professionally, Amy wears many hats, but she loves her work and is very passionate about what she does.
Though Amy is hearing, she has established herself as a strong ally for the Deaf community. Her advocacy started when she was an undergrad in college, when she had a friend who began to lose his hearing. Wanting to support him, Amy began taking American Sign Language (ASL) classes, and inevitably fell in love with the language and Deaf culture. As a psychology student, she found it fascinating to learn how the brain works in the context of not having access to hearing. As her love of the Deaf language and culture grew, Amy began to develop an understanding of what the needs might be in their community, and how she could help.
After receiving her undergraduate degree, Amy attended Gallaudet University, a private school primarily for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. As part of the hearing minority at this time, Amy truly immersed herself in the culture. She recalls experiencing many anti-cochlear implant protests on campus. When she returned years later, Amy noticed enormous changes, such as a large portion of the students now have cochlear implants.
Today, as a hearing person who writes about, advocates for, and works with the Deaf community, she emphasizes the importance of knowing your limits and acknowledging your role whenever you are working with, for, or on behalf of others. She says that she has not experienced a lot of resistance because she thinks that there is a very strong need for allies in the Deaf community.
By the time Amy completed her educational endeavors, she acquired a B.S. in Psychology from Southern Oregon University, a B.S. in Health Promotion and Fitness Management from Southern Oregon University, a M.S. in Clinical Psychology from Eastern Kentucky University, a Post-graduate Certificate for Providing Mental Health Services to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons from Eastern Kentucky University, a M.A. in Administration and Supervision from Gallaudet University, and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Gallaudet University.
After she completed her Ph.D, Amy wanted to travel the world. She applied only to jobs abroad and took a position in Japan, teaching psychology to Japanese students in English. This gave her the opportunity to look critically at what she had learned, and to determine how much of what she had been taught was culturally framed, contextualized, or taught from a Western perspective. Amy admits that this was a life-altering experience.
For a time, she says, Deaf education focused mainly on individuals who did not have access to hearing. Now, educators are beginning to recognize how important individualized learning is, and that there are many different types of learners. This is something she believes CCCBSD does well, considering how much individualized support students receive. She notes that an important characteristic of the school is that it is evolving, and, therefore, willing to make changes. With a staff full of passionate, dedicated individuals, CCCBSD strives to find new ways to better suit the unique needs of the students. We are very lucky and grateful to have someone as knowledgeable and experienced as Amy to help us meet those needs.
Dr. Mark Carlson, CCCBSD President/Executive Director says, “Dr. Szarkowski brings a world of Deaf education knowledge and expertise to the CCCBSD students, faculty, and greater community that we have not had in the past. We look forward to having more amazing tools at CCCBSD as we continually adapt our supports and services.”