Heidi Cook is teaching a new way of communication to the students at the Richard A. Desrochers Educational Center, that is proving most popular.
Cook is part of the new elective introduced this school year, where more than 30 students learn American Sign Language.
The East Greenbush native who now makes Schenectady County her home, says she has worked with the deaf and hard of hearing population for over 25 years. Her extensive expertise with sign language, made this a natural and perfect fit for the curriculum at Vanderheyden.
Cook says her students are very eager to learn about the deaf culture, and the history of signing. She says she noticed her students "became interested in the course, before actually signing."
Recently, Cook was asked to teach the school Chorus how to sign. The students made their debut at Vanderheyden's Spring fundraiser in March, by signing to Louie Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World."
The Chorus, along with her students, are busy learning two new songs for the upcoming Graduation ceremony in June.
Cook, who has been at Vanderheyden for the past three years, is also the Speech Language Pathologist, where she works with about two dozen students.
Her duties include teaching comprehension skills, and understanding, using and applying language to reading and writing. She also teaches social language skills to use at a job interview, in the workplace, and to communicate with peers and adults.
Previously, Cook had been in private practice for 27 years as a speech therapist, with a concentration on the birth to 5-year-old population.
She has also worked with Downs Syndrome and autistic children, which she says provided them a way to communicate.
"It's so important that kids are communicating their wants and needs," Cook says. "And feeling that their feelings are valued."
An opportunity to join the staff at Vanderheyden arose after Cook had worked at a pre-school for 7 years as a speech therapist with the deaf and hard of hearing.
Initially, when a colleague told her about the opening at Vanderheyden, she wondered if she would connect with the program. Cook says he pitched it as "a perfect fit. You have tons of experience, and, you have worked independently. It's pediatrics, up to the age of 18, not only babies."
Cook says working with the teenage population is quite different than working with babies, but she wouldn't trade the experience.
"This added so much to my life, than what I do for them," she says. "It's a double blessing."
Cook says working with teenagers at Vanderheyden gave her a whole different perspective.
"I love children, but I never worked with this age population," she says. "This brought joy to my life. I really enjoy them so much."
"I fell in love with the kids and the school," Cook says. "And, here I am three years later."
Cook says there are two reasons why she stays at Vanderheyden.
"Definitely the kids," she says. "Knowing where they have come from, and being able to be a positive role model. And, to encourage them to know that they can make a difference in the world."
Cook also has kind words for her fellow Team Members.
"The caring and love they put into their jobs. Everyone shows that they want the kids to be successful," she says. "I find that impressive."
In her spare time, Cook loves spending time with her family. She has two daughters who play soccer, and is their "biggest fan."
Cook says she also loves to work out, and is a "spinner." She also enjoys taking walks with her husband and their two Old English Sheepdogs.
Craft projects take on a personal meaning for Cook, as she creates unique gifts for someone's special occasion, instead of buying one.