Posted by Bill Osborne

Grace Gore Sturdivant, Au.D., Board Member, Valerie Linn, Executive Director, and Joshua Friedel, Capital Campaign Manager, of the Magnolia Speech School spoke to the Rotary Club of North Jackson at the club’s March 23, 2021 meeting. They discussed the school and its approach to assisting hearing and language-impaired children.

Grace Gore Sturdivant completed her Doctorate of Audiology Degree (Au.D.) from Vanderbilt University Medical School and maintains professional certification through the American Speech and Hearing Association. She has recently been involved in the ACHIEVE research study at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, which studies the effects of hearing aid intervention on the progression of dementia. Dr. Sturdivant believes in the importance of delaying and preventing hearing loss in order to maintain the integrity of auditory-neural pathways vital to overall health and wellness over a lifetime. 


In the early 1950s, a group of parents of hearing-impaired children in Jackson, Mississippi, began to search for a means to teach their children to talk. These parents struggled with problems of financial support, facilities, and teacher capabilities. In September 1956, Magnolia Speech School for the Deaf was chartered with Mrs. Elizabeth S. Matthews as its director. Under her very capable leadership, the school provided training to children with hearing and language impairments for over 18 years. The school grew from a single class of seven to several classes, outgrowing facilities one after the other.


During these early years, Mrs. Matthews began to notice a few of the hearing-impaired children were having difficulties with memory and seemed to learn differently from the others. Based on this observation, Mrs. Matthews believed a different learning technique was needed.  Mrs. Matthews had studied with Mildred McGiniss to learn the Association Method. After continued success using this method, Magnolia began to document and refine a cohesive program based on this methodology, and the school’s program for children with language-disorders was born.


Within a few years, the school gained full accreditation by the State Department of Education and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Shortly thereafter, an emphasis was placed on the expansion of services into new and innovative areas, such as audiological services, a hearing aid bank, financial aid for low-income families, and an early intervention program.

In June 1994, Anne Sullivan, M.Ed., CED, became the executive director of Magnolia Speech School.  Ms. Sullivan, with certification in both Hearing Impaired and Speech/Language, had previously spent 14 years at Magnolia where she began as a student teacher and rose to the rank of assistant director.  Ms. Sullivan retired in 2012.

Prior to becoming executive director of Magnolia Speech School, Valerie G. Linn, M.S. in Communicative Disorders/Speech Pathology, was the executive director of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in Jackson. Prior to her work as a non-profit executive director, Valerie worked for over 24 years as a pediatric speech/language pathologist. She served in various capacities, including clinic director and senior speech/language pathologist, at the Mississippi Society for Disabilities (formerly MS. Easter Seal Society), and as a speech/language pathologist at the Children’s Rehabilitation Center, Willowood Developmental Center and in county school districts.


Today, Magnolia Speech School continues its tradition of incorporating the latest information and technology to help our students succeed in the mainstream. Magnolia Speech School joins other “OPTION” programs worldwide to provide quality listening and spoken language instruction for children who are identified as deaf or hard of hearing. In addition, we are one of this country’s pioneer programs in coupling sensory integration and classroom instruction. A revised, updated, and unique “Magnolia Speech School Curriculum” is now the foundation for our instruction, provided by skilled teachers and support staff in small groups and in individual therapy.

Dr. Sturdivant discussed how children are tested for hearing capability at birth and that since the 1980s cochlear implants have made it possible for the hearing-impaired to hear and speak normally.

We thank Sturdivant, Linn, and Friedel for their presentation and for the work they are doing to assist speech and language-impaired children. Linn and Sturdivant are shown in the following photos during their presentation. Linn is accompanied by 5-year old student Coy Watkins.