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October 22, 2002

Freedom of expression

From: Beaumont Enterprise, TX
Oct. 22, 2002

LAKEYA HOPKINS , The Enterprise

Drama gives hearing-impaired students the courage to perform.

BEAUMONT - Inside the theater arts hut at South Park Middle School are more than a dozen young actors in training.

Here, India Stewart and Chelsi Hall, both 13, already are starting to build their lives around an audience and director.

On Monday, the two South Park Middle School eighth-graders rehearsed their skits for a theater arts competition coming up in two weeks.

India portrays a mischievous girl. But rather than illustrate her character through dialogue, the girl, who is partially deaf, does it through gestures with her hands, face and body.

India and Chelsi are among seven hearing-impaired South Park students who take drama classes from teacher Donna Buesing.

"I never associated theater competition with (deaf) kids," Buesing said. "The majority of them are quite bright and expressive because they use all of themselves (while performing)."

Buesing, a fifth-year drama teacher, had been trying to recruit hearing-impaired students, but it wasn't until last fall that they began signing up.

Subsequently, she made it possible for the students to compete in the Beaumont school district's theater arts festival this year.

"Some people say, 'But they don't have voices'. Their hands are their voices," Buesing said. "These students are excited about being included like a regular student. They are regular students. They just can't hear."

It has been three years since a deaf student competed in the district's annual theater arts festival, Buesing said.

This year will be the first time that hearing-impaired students can compete in every category.

Marcia Stevens, Beaumont school district fine arts supervisor, said the competition is similar to a University Interscholastic League event. The students are judged by their performances and given a rating.

They are judged on presentation, disposition and ability to present the skit as poetry, humorous acting or story reading, Buesing said.

"I think it's just one of those things that people never expected the children to do," Stevens said. "This (drama) is one thing that had not been explored before."

Theater student Dawayne Gallen, 13, can talk and sign.

"It's hard at times to act," Dawayne said. "Sometimes I have to get closer to the people who are talking to me."

Gallen, a seventh-grader, can hear 75 percent in one ear. Unlike most deaf students in his class, he can talk without an interpreter.

Meanwhile, mouthing the words and "talking" with her hands, Chelsi Hall rehearsed her story-telling skit in front of the class.

Interpreter Vernice Grantham held the storybook and read aloud as the student rapidly expressed each word in sign language.

"Remember: You have to know it from memory and slow down," Buesing commented to Chelsi.

When the hearing-impaired students tell stories, they use their bodies, faces and hands.

"It can be quite hypnotizing at times," Buesing said.

Reach this reporter at:

(409) 833-3311 ext. 412

©The Beaumont Enterprise 2002