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October 25, 2002

Deaf students have feel for music

From: Battle Creek Enquirer, MI
Oct. 25, 2002

By Xochitl PeÒa
The Enquirer
The Battle Creek Central High School color guard members kept pace with the Bearcat band, twirling their flags swiftly around their bodies and periodically incorporating dance moves into the routine.

Every now and then, someone in the flag corps would miss a cue, but, for the most part, the team moved in sync with the speed and agility of a gymnast. So much so, that an onlooker at Springfield Middle School on Thursday would have no idea that two of the color guard members are deaf and can't hear a lick of music.

"They're doing really well. They're not hearing the music like you and I would, but they can hear the vibrations. They actually feel the vibration," said Suzette Bradley, teacher of the hearing impaired for Battle Creek Public Schools.

She's proud that Shanee Wright and Jessica Gay, both freshmen at Battle Creek Central High School, took her advice and became involved in the school's Bearcat Marching Band.

The girls work one-on-one, or in small groups for the hearing impaired, for part of their day, but Bradley tries to get them involved in mainstream extracurricular activities. She said it helps their socialization skills and makes them feel a part of the school. Some of Bradley's former students have played football and volleyball or joined the cheerleading squad and swim team.

Tim Griffith, director of special education with Battle Creek Public Schools, said all special education students, regardless of their disability, are encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities.

"I've been in this business for over 30 years and I've always said our students are more alike than different; therefore, they should be able to participate in any activity that they want to. The fact that we would assume the children can't participate is an error on our part," he said.

The students also attend regular education classes with the help of an interpreter because federal law mandates that students be put in the least restrictive environment, which for many is regular education.

This is the first time longtime band director Brian Bucec can remember deaf students in his band.

"It really has to be quite a challenge for these young girls. What I'm most proud of is the students have learned to work with these girls," he said.

With the help of an interpreter, Wright and Gay said that becoming a member of the color guard was a little scary at first, but they have come to enjoy it.

Gay said she noticed some of the other band members' frustration at first because she and Wright would get confused.

"Some people don't always have the patience, but they wind up being friends and are proud," Gay said.

Wright said she can remember being really confused at first, but has learned to remember the routines and pay attention to the other girls.

"I really like the flag (team). It's a lot of fun, but we practice every day," she said.

Wright has become friends with many students in the band, which is exactly what Bradley wanted to see.

"Many of the people in the band are some of my best friends and they are very proud of me," she said.

Senior band member Kortnie Mills already knew sign language and plans to pursue it in college to become an interpreter, so likes being able to sign back and forth with Wright and Gay.

She said, at first, some other people in the band were a little put off at first with the use of sign language because they didn't know what they were talking about, but have since come to accept it.

During the performances Mills said some of the color guard members help the girls keep the beat by motioning with their hands.

"It's been cool. They enjoy it," said Mills about being on the color guard with the girls.

Sue Hecht is proud of Wright and Gay's success in the band. Hecht attends practices and classes with the two girls and interprets for them. She hopes other deaf students look to the girls as role models.

"It's not always easy for a hearing-impaired student, but these girls have stepped up," Hecht said.

Griffith said the district has an obligation to provide reasonable services to aid disabled students. For example, an interpreter accompanied Wright and Gay to band camp at Michigan State University during the summer.

Bradley is working with six hearing-impaired students this year, five, including Wright and Gay, at the high school and one at W.K. Kellogg Middle School.

She said the other students also are involved in student groups, such as the art club, and school work programs, such as STRIDE, which stands for Student Transition Reaching Independence Direction and Employment.

Like Hecht, Bradley also is proud of the two girls' success and hopes they continue next year.

"They've just been very excited to be a part of it. We know it takes extra effort on their part, but it pays," she said.

Xochitl PeÒa covers education. She can be reached at 966-0694 or at

Copyright © 2002 Battle Creek Enquirer