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Heidi Givens uses her iPad at Audubon Elementary School in Owensboro while working with preschooler Kelsey Gleason, 4, on her listening skills — with background noise present. She wants to help Kelsey understand her teacher while in noisy classroom.

A strong signal

story by Nick Gonzales

The innate need for humans to communicate – to network, develop relationships, grow and succeed – turns life into signals moving from senders to receivers.

Communication breakdowns – differences in language, misunderstanding or lack of volume – can bring that life to a halt.

Heidi Givens works to fix the signal when it doesn’t get to the receivers.

She helps children “deaf” and hard of hearing throughout Owensboro and Daviess County schools. She teaches reading, writing, hearing techniques and speech, 30 minutes at a time with 10 students and up to eight students in one day.

Her nomadic and hectic schedule never causes a disconnect from the work.

“I don’t have OCD, but I have an obsessive personality,” Heidi says. “I hate seeing an unmet need and not doing anything about it. Part of it might just be my Northeastern mentality.”

One of the unmet needs Heidi meets is Noah Hancock, a Daviess County High School junior. He recently got cochlear implants and is learning to hear. Before, he communicated through sign language. His dedication to school and communication learning led him to the National Honors Society, and he meets with Heidi before school starts.

Heidi also helps Taylor Palmer, a Daviess County eighth-grader, with “functional” reading, things most take for granted and as simple as road signs.

Heidi sees Carly Roby, a blind and deaf 3-year-old, twice a week to help develop her “pre-linguistic” communication. Givens cradles Carly in her arms and fans her face, stopping in intervals and awaiting a response, such as a smile, tears or Carly trying to touch Heidi’s hand.

And Heidi keeps lines of communication open with parents.

“All my parents, they have my cell phone number,” Heidi says. “They call me at five in the morning or at nine at night if they need something. I had a parent call me yesterday who had a really hard time explaining something to their child who is completely deaf and uses sign language. After school yesterday, I had to drive to their house to facilitate communication between mom and son.”

She keeps the signal strong.


Heidi Givens arrives at Daviess County High School to meet first student of the day. Givens travels throughut the Daviess County and Owensboro public schools tutoring hearing imparied students.


Heidi Givens illustrates a picture from a book to Nycheala Smith, 15, an eighth-grader at College View Middle School during a teaching session at Country Heights Elementary School. Givens has known Nycheala for 10 years and taught her for nine.


Heidi Givens uses a toy giraffe fan to blow air at Carly Roby, 3, who is blind and deaf, to get her to respond with "pre-linguistic" communication such as smiling, crying or moving her eyes. Givens was working at Country Heights Elementary School. Carly has artificial eyes and hearing aids. Givens meets with Carly twice a week and says Carly is learning to recognize voices.


Heidi Givens finds an abandoned backpack in the stairwell at Daviess County High School in Owensboro, Ky. Despite her hectic schedule, she manages to get everything done, even gathering up lost backpacks.


Taylor Palmer watches Heidi Givens replace the battery in Taylor’s hearing aid during a teaching session at Daviess County Middle School. Givens focuses on functional reading exercises such as reading street signs during their one-on-one sessions. Givens travels throughout the Daviess County and Owensboro school districts as a special education teacher.


Heidi Givens used to work in one classroom, where students from throughout the Daviess County and Owenboro school districts came to her. Her new position sends her to the kids, providing tutoring on location in addition to supporting staff and teaching them how to work with hearing-impaired students.


Heidi Givens becomes the center of attention at dinner with her children, Brooklyn, 9, (foreground) and Jasmine, 5. Her daughters Maya, 12, and Savannah, 4, and her husband, Darrell, are not pictured.

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