Palmetto High School student works with teens to prevent hearing loss

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Many people, especially teens, think hearing loss only happens when youare older. But students in Miami Palmetto High’s music program know that one in five teenagers has Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) by age 19 and that music students are especially at risk due to the many hours they spend playing their instruments.

Palmetto’s music students have participated in the Protect-a-Band (PAB) Program, an initiative of Ear Peace: Save Your Hearing Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of NIHL and encouraging its prevention.

Palmetto High is one of the first Miami-Dade schools to implement this beneficial program, and participation has been documented in a newly released video titled “Band Together to Protect Your Hearing.” The video was produced by Palmetto High junior Kelly Culhane, an Ambassador of the Ear Peace Foundation and vocalist for the Palmetto Jazz Band, in partial fulfillment of her Girl Scout Gold Award Project.

“It’s a silent epidemic,” Culhane explained. “Everything is much louder than it used to be — sporting events, bowling alleys, movie theaters; even some churches hand out ear plugs at the door. That, combined with the unsafe use of personal audio devices, with students listening to loud music for too long, is causing permanent hearing damage at an early age.”

The result is NIHL and, in some cases, tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ears.

“Because NIHL is painless and progressive, most teens won’t notice it until it is too late,” she added. “This type of hearing loss is permanent and can’t be fixed by doctors. But, NIHL is also entirely preventable.”

Culhane partnered with Sherilyn M. Adler, PhD, executive director of Ear Peace Foundation to bring the PAB program to Palmetto last year. Kennan Torgerson, former director of bands at Palmetto High, attended a Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) teacher training workshop to learn an effective hearing conservation curriculum and subsequently taught it in his music classes.

Students learned that any sound over 85 decibels can cause hearing damage, and to follow the 60/60 rule — no more than 60 percent volume for 60 minutes. They also learned three simple steps to protect their hearing: turn the sound down, walk away, and/or use hearing protection.

After learning about NIHL and its prevention, the students received high quality filtered ear plugs free of charge from the foundation, a type of hearing protection which allows them to play their instruments, hear their teacher and have normal conversations, while still protecting their hearing.

“I really enjoy using the earplugs especially when it gets loud in class,” said Palmetto senior and saxophonist Ryan Kraus. “It’s nice to be able to use them to protect my hearing while also doing what I love. I would definitely recommend them to other kids because hearing’s important.”

Torgerson, now director of bands at Coral Reef High, plans to expand the program to Coral Reef’s Music Magnet students. “Learning about NIHL has been eye opening for me,” Torgerson said. “We want to protect our students’ health, including their hearing health. Ear Peace Foundation’s Protect-A-Band Program helped me motivate my students to protect their hearing, so they can continue to enjoy music and listening for a lifetime.”

Monica Serrano, the new director of bands at Palmetto, has committed to continuing the program at Palmetto.

“I’m excited to continue this important work of protecting our students’ hearing while they create great music,” Serrano said.

As part of her Gold Award project, Culhane produced five additional educational videos, taught the curriculum to fourth grade music students at Palmetto Elementary, and helped make a presentation on the topic at a statewide music educators conference.

She currently is designing educational posters to be displayed at pediatrician’s offices statewide to help raise awareness. In April, the Girl Scout Council of Tropical Florida plans to nominate her for the National Young Women of Distinction Award, given annually to the top 10 Gold Award projects across the Country. Winners will be announced in July.


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