ODESSA, Texas (AP) _ Carver pre-kindergartner Lisette Garcia squirmed happily in her chair as teacher Clarissa Funk read from a book about dinosaurs recently.

Funk read the book to four of her students as she also signed the words with her hands.

Lisette, 3, listened and watched her teacher quickly pull out a blue, plastic horn in a clear box.

Funk would later imitate a dinosaur roar with the horn, but before she could Lisette piped up.

"Let's open it!" Lisette yelled to Funk.

Funk smiled, and told her teacher's aide, Maggie Rodriguez, to log the phrase into a sample language book, which records spontaneous phrases or words her students say.

In other words, progress.

Funk, who teaches deaf and hard-of-hearing students at Carver Early Education Center, works with students to build their language and communication skills through an approach called "Total Communication" as part of the district's Ector County Regional Day School Program for the Deaf.

That approach zeros in on speech and signing skills, Funk said, noting each student comes to her at a different level of ability.

She uses an auditory trainer hearing aid system with her students, in which Funk wears a microphone in class to amplify her speech so the students may hear her wherever they are in the classroom.

Funk and Rodriguez work with the students to improve their skills so they may reach the same skill level as a regular education pre-kindergarten student.

Funk said her personal goal for her six students is for them to build a sense of independence by refraining from relying on others for most of their needs.

"I want them to communicate," Funk said. "I want them to live just as we do."

Barbara Faubion, lead teacher for the Ector County deaf school program, said Carver is one of four campuses in the Ector County Independent School District working with deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

The program serves those students starting with their infant years up to high school age, she said.

"We teach language-based information to students for educational growth," Faubion said.

A majority of the program's 37 students bus daily from areas like Andrews, Crane and Fort Stockton to receive services. The program also provides services for parents through its parent-infant program, which works with parents in developing sign language and other communication skills prior to a child entering the first campus in the program: Carver.

Back at Carver, Funk said she also works with students on developing their common knowledge of objects and things like colors and the letter alphabet in addition to working on language and signing skills.

Oftentimes, she helps her students understand words by placing their hand on their own throat so they can feel the sound. She said she works on different concepts to help her students learn from hands-on to listening to signing exercises.

"My goal is to get them language," Funk said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.