Our legacy compels us to ensure each child has a voice
For more than eighty years, Atlanta Speech School has been evolving and expanding in line with advances in research, technology, instruction, and therapy to meet the language and literacy needs of each person with whom we work and every child within our reach.
The School was started in 1938 by Katherine Hamm, whose son Benjamin had hearing loss, to help other children who were deaf or hard of hearing or who had speech disorders learn to speak. Ms. Hamm had relocated from Charleston, South Carolina to St. Louis, Missouri to enroll Ben in the Central Institute for the Deaf (CID) to acquire speech as no such services were available in the Southeast. Believing it would enable her to provide the best support for her son, Ms.Hamm completed the teacher training program at CID herself. They later moved to Atlanta where Mrs. Hamm discovered that many children faced the same challenge of hearing loss as her son, but did not have the financial means to seek services elsewhere. Accordingly, Mrs. Hamm joined with the Junior League of Atlanta to open the School in June 1938, providing services to children who needed them at no charge. The School originally operated on an approximately $3,000 budget in a former dentist’s office in downtown Atlanta.
Over the next several decades, the School functioned as the speech and language department of virtually every school system in metropolitan Atlanta; with students traveling long distances to attend the School or receiving services from the School’s itinerant teachers in the their home schools.
This model for service delivery, accompanied with significant public funding, remained in place until Federal Law 94-142 was passed in 1975(the predecessor of Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA)), mandating school systems provide their own such programs. This change in law required the School to modify its services directed toward children with language-based learning disabilities. The School anticipated that its focus should be redirected to children with mild to moderate disabilities who would be less likely to have services provided for them in the public schools. This change also demanded that the School adapt its funding to rely almost exclusively on private sources for its operations. It is also noted that the School’s governance and financial structure had previously changed in 1960 when Junior League policies caused the Junior League of Atlanta to separate itself from its ownership position of the School. As a result, the Junior League School of Speech Correction became independently incorporated as the Atlanta Speech School, Inc.
The School’s history includes numerous significant innovations and great programmatic growth. These advances in the School’s work have been made possible by a strong partnership and working relationship between the School’s Board of Directors and staff, as well as ties to key local, state and national organizations, and individuals aligned with the School’s work.