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October 28, 2002

Breaking The Silence

From: Harlingen Valley Morning Star, TX
Oct. 28, 2002

Girl shows disability isn’t an obstacle

Valley Morning Star
BROWNSVILLE — Samantha Muñiz’s room looks like the bedroom of any 12-year-old girl.

One window is framed with Beauty and the Beast curtains; the other with Little Mermaid curtains. Her sea-foam green and lavender walls are plastered with pictures of her favorite pop star, Aaron Carter, and her favorite fictional character, Harry Potter. Her bookshelves are filled with The Babysitters’ Club collection and the entire Harry Potter series.

Only one object in her bedroom sets her apart from other pre-teen girls — a TTY, a text telephone for the deaf. Her dad, an assistant manager at Pizza Hut, affixed three light bulbs to her wall. They light up whenever the phone rings.

Samantha, a seventh-grader with glasses, long hair and long limbs, has 100s or almost 100s in all of her classes at Oliveira Middle School. Four of her five classes are pre-advanced placement level.

She plays on the school’s chess team, serves as the only deaf altar girl at Holy Family Church, participates in the University Interscholastic League and Junior National Honor Society and dances for the Dolphinettes, the middle school’s dance team.

The Brownsville girl described her outlook in a recent autobiography she wrote for English class, titled Disability isn’t an obstacle to succeed!

In it, she attributes her success to the support she has received from her parents, her speech therapist and her friends.

"I have some friends who learned sign language just to communicate with me. It sure feels great to have friends who can speak another foreign language!"

Samantha was 2 years old when her parents, Jose and Heriberta (Berta) Muñiz, took her to a doctor to find out why she wasn’t responding to sounds around her. The doctor told Berta and Jose that Samantha was fine.

"I liked that idea because I didn’t want my daughter to be deaf," she said.

Berta and Jose then got a referral to an ear doctor, who broke the news to them — their daughter was deaf. They attribute it to the rubella Berta suffered while pregnant.

"For me, it was hard. I wanted to cry and cry," Berta said.

Jose recalled his wife’s initial sadness.

"She always thought of her as pobrecita. … I told her, ‘It’s not like she’s stupid, she’s just deaf,’" he said.

Berta quickly changed her attitude, taking on Samantha’s deafness with maternal fervor.

At the time, Berta spoke only Spanish. She set out to learn both English and American Sign Language.

By the time Samantha was 5 years old, Berta spoke both languages proficiently.

Berta now speaks error-free English and works as a sign language interpreter at Oliveira Middle School.

Jose learned sign language for the same reason. Berta and Jose made sure their other daughter, Samandra, 10, also learned sign.

"If we wouldn’t have learned sign, we wouldn’t have known what she learned at school or what happened on the bus," Jose said.

"We wouldn’t be able to ask her, ‘What did you do today?’ ‘What are you doing tomorrow?’ "

Samantha was enrolled in the Brownsville Regional School Program for the Deaf for pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first grade and half of second grade. Her parents stopped by regularly.

"We were always there — once, twice, three times a week," Jose said.

Halfway through second grade, Samantha moved out of the regional school at Egly into mainstream classes at Yturria Elementary, her home campus.

"The teachers thought she would be better in a mainstream class. We liked the idea. As her dad says, ‘It’s a hearing world, and she needs to fit in,’" Berta said.

Samantha does fit in to the hearing world. She speaks and lip-reads and has hearing friends.

Samantha’s advanced abilities led her parents to contact the University of Texas at Brownsville in the spring of 2001 about enrolling her in the school’s summer classes for kids.

UTB officials told them it was too late to add an interpreter to the budget.

But Jose and Berta persisted and eventually got one.

Jose said that enrolling Samantha in summer classes at UTB benefited not only her, but children like her.

"That’s opened doors for other deaf kids," her dad said. "That keeps them busy during the summer, so they’re not just sitting at home watching TV."

Going into this school year, Jose and Berta found out the school district was changing to a new sign language company and that Samantha could end up with a level one interpreter.

Berta and Jose pushed for her to keep the same level three interpreter Samantha had since third grade, Carol Linan of San Benito.

Even though she’s with Samantha during the day, Linan refrains from acting as the girl’s mother, teacher or friend.

"I’m her interpreter and that’s all. I think a lot of interpreters have trouble with that. They do get too motherly. They do get too attached. She’s not very dependent on me. She runs off and leaves me. We want that. She’s growing and maturing. She’s a teenager. She needs her space. We have a look. When she needs my help, she gives me the look. Then I go over and help her."

On a recent school day, in physical education class, Samantha and her classmates had to run a mile for a grade.

To get 100, they had to run it in less than 12 minutes.

Four P.E. teachers, all holding clipboards and stop watches, waited at the finish line for students to run their two laps. Linan waited with them.

"We’re crossing our fingers today," she said. "I can see the progress. I can remember when she would come in dead last."

Head coach and P.E. teacher Ruben Delgado shouted out Samantha’s time as she passed him.


A 90 percent — not quite the grade Samantha had hoped for.

"(Samantha’s) really focused on her grades," Delgado said. "She always wants to get a 100."

After P.E., Samantha went to her one-on-one speech session with Susan Moody, the regional school’s speech language pathologist.

Moody led Samantha in a game of Scrabble. Samantha had to make sentences from every word she and Moody formed.

For "shot," Samantha said, "I got a shot in the came."

"You’re telling me ‘came.’ Tell me ‘gah.’ Tell me ‘game,’" moving her hand in front of her mouth to show the visual phonics "gah" sound.

"Game," Samantha said.

"Perfect," Moody said.

Elena Garcia, a teacher of the deaf at Oliveira, attributes Samantha’s success to parental support.

"They encourage her in everything. There is nothing that this little kid has said, ‘I want to try,’ that they said, ‘No, you can’t because you’re deaf.’ … (When deaf students say) ‘No I can’t,’ (Samantha) says, ‘Yes, you can. You have your hearing aid. We have interpreters.’"

Linan agreed.

"I’m not even sure she believes she’s deaf," she said.

©2000, Valley Morning Star, a Freedom Communications, Inc. Company.