Several times a week, Rebecca Mettler makes a 92-mile round-trip to Springfield to take her 4-year-old son to preschool.

“That’s how important it is for us,” she said. “We came and visited before he was 2. We got him on the list.”

Mettler, a journalist who lives in Sarcoxie, worried that without the preschool, her only son — diagnosed as deaf — would not gain the social, academic and communication skills needed to learn and succeed in school and life.

“He needed structure,” she said. “We knew from testing that he was behind. Getting him caught up to his peers, from a social standpoint to learning prep to gear up for kindergarten, was essential.”

Enrolled in Missouri State University’s Preschool for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the boy has been thriving. He attends preschool three hours a day, four days a week.

“He really loves it here,” she said. “He has learned so much and I’m glad he has the excitement for learning.”

The preschool, a learning laboratory in MSU’s Communication Sciences and Disorders Department, is a rarity in southwest Missouri. There is often a lengthy waiting list.

Tara Oetting, a clinical professor at MSU, said the preschool helps children, ages 3-5, develop language, speech, academic development and early literacy. “There are a lot of different teaching strategies that we have to use that are not necessarily in normal hearing programs.”