Debbie School Reunion Celebrates 40 Years of Success

More than 100 alumni, parents, supporters, current and former employees and community partners attended the Debbie School’s first reunion last month, held in honor of the 50th birthday of Debra Jean Segal, the girl for whom the school at the Department of Pediatrics Mailman Center for Child Development was named.

Attendees at the February 18 gathering, which included tours, a symposium on the school’s research and a reception featuring historic photo collages and albums, celebrated the institute’s 40 years of success, and that of many of its thousands of graduates – young children with hearing impairments and other special needs who attended classes with typically developing youngsters.

Among the returning alumni were twins Angela and Stacy Castro, who attended the Debbie School from 1985 to 1988 and took part in the school’s landmark Infant, Health and Development Project. Proudly introduced by former principal Mimi Graham, the twins are now pursuing careers in education.

“It was fabulous day, a really magical day,’’ Kathy Vergara, M.A., the school’s director, said. “Debbie and her family were not physically present, but they were here in spirit.’’

Part of a national network of programs designed to serve children with disabilities and special health care needs, the Mailman Center was established in 1971 with a generous contribution from Debbie’s grandfather, Abraham L. Mailman, and his brother Joe, to help children like Debbie realize their full potential. Now an artist and crafter, she was born with cerebral palsy at a time when children with special needs were routinely institutionalized.

In another reunion highlight, Vergara and Daniel Armstrong, Ph.D., vice chair of pediatrics and director of the Mailman Center, honored philanthropist and civic leader Marta Weeks-Wulf, former chair of the UM Board of Trustees, for her longtime support of the school, which in addition to providing early intervention for special-needs children and their families, conducts research and trains university students for careers in special education, speech-language pathology, physical and occupational therapy, and social work.

“Martha Weeks-Wulf’s generosity has made it possible for children with hearing loss to learn to listen and speak – and for children with various exceptionalities to maximize their potential through the opportunity to receive intensive educational intervention and multiple therapies,’’ Vergara said.

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