BOSSIER PARISH, La. (KSLA) - 9-year-old Baleigh Berry is a 4th-grade cheerleader, and excels at dancing and playing the piano despite being born without the ability to hear.
“Day one in the hospital,” says Shena Berry who admits its the last thing she ever thought a doctor would tell her shortly after having a baby.
“You prepare for a lot of things in pregnancy because you don’t know what is going to happen. But deafness isn’t one of them,” she adds.
But soon after, the family found reason to celebrate. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but a cochlear implant gave Baleigh her first real shot at listening and, one day, talking with others.
As she got older, she discovered other ways to share exactly what’s on her mind through sign language and by watching others talk.
“So I can read your lips,” Baleigh told KSLA News 12′s Doug Warner.
She couples what she hears with what she sees spoken.
She attends Legacy Elementary in Bossier Parish where a number of the districts young students with hearing impairments attend. As students began counting down the days before returning to the classroom after the long pandemic break, young Baleigh realized she was facing a whole new problem.
“You have to wear a mask,” says Baleigh, explaining it covers up everyone’s mouths, making it hard to understand what others are saying.
Shena called the school to ask what could be done to help.
Their idea, masks with a clear plastic insert.
“The principal came to me, and we came up with the idea to get those masks for everyone in the classroom,” says Leslie Bailey, an instructional coach at Legacy.
When an initial attempt to order these personalized masks for all of the students was delayed, Leslie quickly turned to plan B.
She began making them at her home.
“I’ve got tons of different fabrics,” she explains, pointing out the designs spread out across her dining room table.
Leslie’s part-time side gig was quickly elevated into a stop-gap fix for the students.
Students were given masks with clear plastic inserts to wear on the first day of class.
“Somebody in our class really needs them,” explains Will Johnson, one of Baleigh’s classmates, about when the teacher asked all students to wear them.
When Will went home and told his parents about his first day of school, his father was just as impressed.
“You don’t think about when everyone is wearing a mask how that would affect a child like this,” adds Will’s father, U.S. Congressman Mike Johnson who promptly posted on his Facebook page about what Legacy did for Baleigh and all of the students.
“I read that post and I cried and cried,” admits Shena.
Baleigh’s mother says she was overjoyed at the effort everyone made for her daughter and the other students with hearing impairments at Legacy.
“I wish I could go back and look at myself ten years ago and tell myself it’s going to be OK because it is.”