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How we became WISE

WISE History

A Tradition of Excellence

For over a decade, we have provided a language and literacy rich environment for young children with hearing loss. Hundreds of children have learned to listen and speak through the specialized programs provided at WISE.

A Bright Future

In recent years with the help of generous donors, we have expanded our programs to include children from infancy to adulthood. Our first students are entering a new phase of their lives, graduating from high school with the confidence spoken language provides.

Our History

While our school has been helping children for over a decade now, our WISE leaders have been professional partners for many more years. Our WISE Director, Nancy Gregg, LSLS/Cert. AVT, was the director of Children’s Center for Hearing Impaired (now known as the Children’s HEAR Center) when Dr. Audie Woolley joined the Pediatric department of Otolaryngology at Children’s Hospital in 1995.  The successful growth of the program at Children’s led to the recognition of the need for a preschool program tailored for the families that were using listening and spoken language.

In a collaborative effort between Children’s Hospital of AL and The Alabama Ear Institute (AEI), Nancy Gregg along with a fellow LSLS/Cert. AVT and WISE board member, Natalie Baldwin, began the development of this special program in 2008.  The WISE preschool was launched as a pilot program in the summer of 2009 under the name the Alabama School for Hearing.  WISE Board member Beverly Hunter King served as the school administrator with direction from Harry Wooten, former Vice President of the AEI. 

The tuition free program was extremely popular with the families as they saw the preschool as a place where their children could reach even greater heights in auditory, speech and language development. Students were immersed in a language and literacy rich environment, led by Listening and Spoken Language Specialists who intentionally planned every part of the student’s day. Every interaction was designed to provide opportunities for the children to build a strong listening, language, and educational foundation.

It is hard to believe that the first group of children is now nearing the age of high school graduation! Several of our inaugural class member’s parents now serve as members of the WISE Board of Directors.

In 2018, our founding board president, Dr. Robert Baldwin, asked Dr. Audie Woolley to consider taking on the responsibility of Board president upon his impending retirement. Dr. Woolley had served as a board member for many years and was known throughout the state for his ability to bring hundreds of children to the world of sound through cochlear implantation.

Quickly after his tenure as president began, Dr. Woolley began to recruit Nancy Gregg, LSLS Cert. AVT to formally lead the school as director and oversee the rebranding and expansion of our school. After a 30-year career at Children’s Hospital Nancy became the Director of WISE.

In a few short years WISE has grown exponentially with introduction of seven new programs, now reaching families across the state through our early intervention therapy program and most recently with teletherapy.

A Timeline of WISE



Founded by Dr. Robert L. Baldwin and initially known as the Birmingham Ear Institute.

Philanthropic Gift


Birmingham Ear Institute received a generous philanthropic gift from the Joe Bruno family to fund operations, hire full time staff, and open an office.

Newborn Screening


Birmingham Ear Institute identified the need for newborn hearing screenings in Alabama hospitals.

Partnered with Alabama State Department of Health


Birmingham Ear Institute partnered with the Alabama State Department of Public Health / Bureau of Family Health Services (BFHS) to plan and implement statewide Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Program in Alabama hospitals. Collaborating agencies included:

    • Children’s Rehabilitation Services

    • The Early Detection and Intervention Program (EDHI)

    • Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind (AIDB)

    • Alabama Early Intervention System

Renamed Alabama Ear Institute (AEI)


  • Birmingham Ear Institute officially was renamed the Alabama Ear Institute (AEI).
  • Federal Grant proposal submitted to Health and Human Resources in Washington, D.C. for $726,000 was approved to fund four years of the Alabama Universal Newborn Hearing Screening program.
  • AEI Parent-2-Parent (P2P) peer support program began providing networking opportunities and educational seminars for parents of children with hearing loss.
Began Universal Newborn Hearing Screening (UNHS)


  • Alabama Universal Newborn Hearing Screening (UNHS) program officially began.

  • P2P program was implemented to network families raising deaf children in Alabama, offering workshops and meetings, and a parent board for the program developed.

  • P2P program incorporated “Families Impacted by Hearing Impairment” program in Huntsville, AL, a leading advocate of family services for deaf children who want to listen, learn, and speak.

  • Alabama recognized in USA Today as one of top 10 UNHS programs in the country.

  • AEI co-sponsored a medical conference (“An Overview of Cochlear Implantation”) with the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind and the Alabama Department of Education.

  • AEI Auditory-Verbal Therapy Task Force formed and conducted needs assessment for the availability of certified therapists for children born with hearing loss in Alabama.

  • CHIC (”Culture for Hearing Impaired Children”) KIDS program began. They were culturally rich programs quarterly for children born deaf and hard of hearing, e.g. Birmingham Museum of Art.

Continuing Education


  • AEI Auditory-Verbal Therapy Mentoring Program began conducting continuing education programs in the A-V approach for educational and clinical professionals.

  • AEI Weather Radio Program began distributing radios to individuals with hearing loss to assist in notifying of weather related emergencies.

  • Families Impacted by Hearing Impairment (FIHI)/AEI merger was completed.
  • AEI co-sponsored the following medical conferences on Cochlear Implants with Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind and the Alabama Department of Education:

    • “An Overview of Cochlear Implantation”

    • “Cochlear Implantation: The Next Step”

    • “Cochlear Implantation: Alternative Communication Options”

Federal Grant form CDC


  • AEI received a federal grant from the Centers for Disease Control to implement Auditory-Verbal Mentoring Program and began providing mentoring services to professionals to increase the availability of therapy to families across Alabama. It was the first program of its kind in the United States or Canada to provide direct scholarship funded one-on-one mentoring in the A-V approach for professionals seeking to become Listening and Spoken Language Specialist Certified Auditory-Verbal Therapists (LSLS Cert AVTs).

  • “Poison Noises” interactive puppet show for elementary schools implemented to educate children on the dangers of noise pollution and its impact on hearing loss.

  • “Every Kid Counts” program began conducting culturally competent activities for children with hearing loss to interact with their hearing peers.

First Annual Summer Auditory-Verbal Therapy


The first annual AEI Summer Institute in Auditory-Verbal Therapy was conducted to increase availability of training in the Auditory-Verbal approach.

Exhibit at McWane Science Center


  • “Poison Noises” educational program was adopted as a permanent exhibit by the McWane Science Center in Birmingham, Alabama.

  • AEI Auditory-Verbal Mentoring Program received local and national recognition for exemplary service:

    • Alabama State Department of Education: “the difference an Auditory-Verbal approach makes cannot be over emphasized . . . your program is making a significant difference in Special Education service delivery throughout the state”

    • The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Hard of Hearing: “AEI has become a model for other programs throughout the United States and internationally . . . AEI sets a new standard. . .”

Conference on Cochlear Implant Research


AEI conducted medical conference for physicians on cochlear implant research co-sponsored by Advanced Bionics Corporation.

Mentoring Program Surpasses 1000 members


  • AEI Auditory-Verbal Mentoring Program surpassed 1,000 professionals/attendees participating/receiving training in the Auditory-Verbal Therapy approach.

  • AEI co-sponsored Spoken Language Development workshop with Cochlear Americas Corporation.

Formed the Alabama School for Hearing


  • AEI partnered with Children’s Hospital to form the Alabama School for Hearing –an Auditory/Oral preschool for children with hearing loss.

  • AEI advocacy efforts resulted in Alabama State Department of Education redefining requirements for Teachers of the Deaf in Alabama schools.

  • AEI partnered with AL State Department of Education to pioneer school classroom sound field amplification project.

  • AEI initiated collaboration with local Office of Senior Citizens’ Services and Birmingham Speech & Hearing Clinic to begin HEAR 4U Senior Citizen Hearing Aid Program. As a result of this program, hearing aids were provided at no cost to senior citizens who met financial requirements of program.

Alabama School for Hearing Opening


  • The Alabama School for Hearing opened, providing Auditory-Oral preschool classes with individual Auditory-Verbal Therapy sessions to preschool aged children with hearing loss utilizing a spoken language approach preparing them to enter mainstreamed classrooms. It was the first Auditory/Oral preschool in Alabama.

  • AEI partnered with Congressman Arthur Davis and Congressman Mike Rogers to donate classroom sound field technology to local schools.

Alabama School for Hearing is one of a kind


  • AEI staff attended annual Option School Conference – learned that the Alabama School for Hearing is only school of its kind in U.S. and Canada that does not charge tuition for students to attend.

  • AEI received Outstanding Service Award from the Speech and Hearing Association of Alabama for its contributions to continuing education training for professionals who provide services to children with hearing loss and their families.

Partnered with The University of Southern Mississippi


  • AEI partnered with The University of Southern Mississippi to conduct week long training in spoken language development to graduate students in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences.

  • AEI Auditory-Verbal Mentoring Program surpassed 1,300 professionals/attendees participating/receiving training in the Auditory-Verbal Therapy approach.

AEI Teletherapy/Telementoring program


  • AEI partnered with the Alabama State Department of Education and the Cullman City School System to implement AEI Teletherapy/Telementoring program – first pilot program of its kind in Alabama to provide therapy and professional training in Spoken Language Development via telecommunication technology for local school students and professionals.

  • AEI conducted its 10th Summer Institute in Spoken Language Development for professionals who serve children with hearing loss and their families.

  • Professionals from 30 different states, Argentina and Canada have received training in spoken language development through the AEI Auditory Verbal Therapy Mentoring Program.

  • AEI Auditory-Verbal Mentoring Program surpassed 1,500 professionals/attendees participating/receiving training in the Development of Spoken Language /Auditory-Verbal Therapy approach.

AEI Becomes the Model


  • The Speech & Hearing Center in Chattanooga, TN, visited the Alabama School for Hearing as a model and starts their “Little Listeners” preschool for children with hearing loss modeled after the Alabama School for Hearing – the first preschool of its kind in Chattanooga, TN, for children with hearing loss.

  • WISE partnered with the Alabama Department of Education to provide Auditory Verbal therapy sessions for children enrolled at the Alabama School for Hearing.



Recognizing that the primary program of the Alabama Ear Institute (AEI) has become The Alabama School for Hearing, (ASH). The Board of Directors for each unanimously agreed that AEI and the Alabama School for Hearing should officially merge the two entities and continue its operations as the Alabama School for Hearing (ASH). This was done with the consideration that all current AEI programs can continue well within the mission of ASH. Prior to this change, the Alabama School for Hearing had been a separate but integral part of the Alabama Ear Institute.

Dr. Audie Woolley named President
AEI renamed to WISE


  • Dr. Robert Baldwin retired and Dr. Audie Woolley was named as President and Chairman.  The Board of Directors voted to eliminate the position of executive vice president.  The Board agreed to complete fundraising and grant writing responsibilities themselves.

  • The Board voted to rename the organization the Woolley Institute for Spoken-Language Education (WISE).

  • Nancy Gregg was hired as the Executive Director of WISE.

  • WISE opened a Toddler Preschool Program for two year old children.

  • WISE initiated a Parent Support group with monthly meetings located at WISE and locations in the Birmingham area.

  • WISE partnered with public school systems to send therapists to the schools to provide Listening and Spoken Language therapy sessions and mainstream support.

  • WISE partnered with Cochlear Americas to present a workshop for professionals.

  • Nancy Gregg and members of the Board presented at the Alabama Early Intervention Conference

  • WISE partnered with the University of Alabama to provide training and internship placements for graduate students in speech/language pathology.

Early intervention services


  • Through collaboration with the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation, WISE began providing early intervention services to Alabama’s deaf and hard of hearing infants and children.
  • Through collaboration with the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation, WISE began providing early intervention speech pathology services to infants and toddlers with communication delays not related to hearing loss.
  • WISE began enrolling typical peers in our preschool classrooms.
  • WISE hired a social worker, a Teacher of the Deaf, a Special Education Teacher, and an additional part time speech/language pathologist to serve the Early Intervention population.
WISE expands its programs


  • WISE hired a part time interim director for the WISE Family NEST.

  • In response to the Global Pandemic, WISE developed a tele intervention program for Early Intervention,  Preschool, and therapy services.

  • WISE added a Music therapy program to our preschool program.

  • WISE opened two additional classrooms to accommodate the growing student body.

  • WISE expanded the School Outreach & Support Program to include more public school systems.

  • WISE hired two additional LSLS Certified Auditory Verbal Therapists.

  • WISE parents and staff hosted a Valentine’s Day Fundraiser.

  • WISE staff hosted a Back to School Book Drive.

  • WISE partnered with Fluid Solutions to host the Birmingham SlowRide fundraiser.

  • WISE hired an additional classroom assistant.
  • WISE became a provider for Alabama Medicaid for Speech Language Therapy.
WISE expands its programs


  • Alabama Department of Rehabilitation doubled the number of children served through the WISE Early Intervention Program.
  • WISE hired two additional service coordinators for the Early Intervention Program.
  • WISE hired a speech/language pathologist pursuing LSL certification for the Mobile area.
  • WISE hired a master’s Level Special Education teacher for the Birmingham preschool program.
  • WISE hired an Audiologist.
  • WISE partnered with Samford University to host a Micah Fellow.
  • Fluid Solutions sponsored SlowRide Birmingham, a fundraiser for WISE.
  • WISE developed the Alabama Hearing Loss Options website through grant funding from the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.
  • WISE received an Oberkotter grant to fund WISE MARKS, a mobile audiology/therapy unit.
  • WISE-Huntsville launched with preschool classes offered at Summit Crossing Church and later at Mount Zion Baptist Church.
  • WISE hired an additional speech/language pathologist for the Huntsville program.
  • WISE purchased and renovated a building at 400 Corporate Parkway in Birmingham.
  • WISE hosted Sips for Sound at Dread River Brewery.
  • WISE received a grant from the Alabama Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention.
WISE expands its programs


  • WISE opened our new location at 400 Corporate Parkway.
  • Fluid Solutions sponsored SlowRide Birmingham, a fundraiser for WISE.
  • Opened an Early Intervention Program in Mobile.
  • Began serving families from East Alabama in Boaz.
  • Nancy Gregg was appointed to the Interagency Coordinating Council (ICC)
  • Began Educational Audiology Program
  • Opened 2-year-old classroom in Huntsville
  • Renewed Grant from Department of Early Childhood Education
  • Hired Parent Coordinator for the WISE Family NEST
  • Secured funding to assist with the cost of mentoring LSL professionals and Educational Audiologists
  • Served as graduated student practicum site for Samford, Auburn, and University of Alabama

Tuition Free Programs

New Friends for life

Life Changing Results

Loving and Caring Staff

Get In Touch

400 Corporate Parkway
Birmingham, Alabama 35242

Telephone: (205) 728-5480

Email: [email protected]

The Woolley Institute for Spoken-Language Education (WISE), is a 501 © not for profit organization dedicated to teaching deaf children to speak. We are a statewide, family focused program working in collaboration with Alabama’s Early Intervention System, local school systems, and private and public entities which advance the education of deaf children who use listening and spoken language.