IM this article to a friend!

April 18, 2003

Educating the hearing-impaired

From: Columbus This Week Newspapers, OH - Apr 18, 2003

County program expands horizons, friendships for FCESE students

Friday, April 18, 2003

Stories by Candace Preston-Co

On a recent morning, Sue Williams stood in front of her kindergarten class at Wyandot Elementary, preparing students for another day of learning.

The 6-year-olds in front of her squirmed as she spoke. Among them was Stephanie Frink, who spent more time watching another classmate than her teacher.

Suddenly, DeVonne Tucker knelt down in front of Stephanie to get her attention. The girl watched as Tucker moved her fingers, signing the instructions for a tornado drill.

Keeping the attention of a young child is difficult for any adult, said Tucker, an interpreter with the Franklin County Educational Services Center (FCESC). When that child has trouble hearing, the problem escalates, she said.

Most of the time, Tucker stands next to Williams and signs what she is saying. Sometimes Stephanie looks up and other times she doesn't.

"When it's something important, I get to her level, in her field of vision," said Tucker.

At the elementary level, students learn skills that will determine their level of success in future years, said Lori Giuliani, one of two FCESC teachers for the hearing-impaired (HI) at Wyandot this year.

From the time they are born, most children learn by listening to their parents and others around them. Associating a cup with the word is learned by repetition, she said.

For hearing-impaired students, the steps are more complicated, said Tucker.

She will show Stephanie a picture of a cup in the dictionary, then point to the word, then sign the word and point to the picture again.

Julie Lugo's family moved to Dublin because of the diversity and curriculum of its schools and because the Franklin County program was there for her third-grade son, Logan.

"It's an outstanding program that is absolutely tailored to the individual hearing-impaired student's needs," she said. And, she said, it provides opportunities for Logan to interact with both the hearing and non-hearing worlds.

Lugo also credits the "buddy program" used by FCESC speech therapist Lynda Hines for helping Logan gain confidence.

Logan and his buddy work on his speech with Hines during recess.

"I looked at other programs but they talked about how my daughter (third-grader Anna from the South-Western School District) could fit into their program," said Mary Beth Wallace.

"I didn't hear that at Franklin County. They asked me what we wanted for Anna and let her judge when she needs an interpreter," she said.

Colin Broderick of Grandview lost his hearing because of meningitis when he was 3, said his father, Rick Broderick. Once a talkative child, Colin soon lost his ability to speak. After disastrous results with a hearing aid, his family agreed to a cochlear implant.

When he was in second grade in the Columbus Public Schools program, his family decided Colin needed new challenges and started looking around.

"We weren't aware of the Franklin County program ... It was like a secret," said his dad.

After holding him back a year in second grade, Colin is "blossoming" in third grade with the help of the Franklin County program, Broderick said.

Walk into the Davis Middle School cafeteria at lunchtime and you'll likely to see fingers flying at a few tables. It's not a food fight or a battle about to begin, but students communicating through signing.

Davis offers a sign language class for all sixth-graders during study hall and several have taken it, said principal Dave Nosker.

By having peers with those skills, said HI teacher Lisette Tedeschi, "It forces my students to communicate with people rather than through people."

Ashley Wittenauer from Dublin met Melody Frink from Upper Arlington in the sixth grade and knew she wanted to become friends. Ashley knew some sign language but not enough to carry on a conversation with the hearing-impaired Melody. She took the study hall classes.

"If only deaf people signed, then they would only have each other," said Ashley. "This way, we all can expand our friendships and they can talk to more people than their interpreters."

Now in eighth grade, the two girls are inseparable in school. Ashley is Melody's buddy during Hines's speech class and the two sit together at lunch, along with Kristy Penny from the South-Western City Schools district, who can understand what she hears most of the time and can speak.

When the three start signing, "some girls think we're talking about them," said Melody. "I tell them we are, but we're saying nice things."

Debbie Quaranta of Upper Arlington, whose daughter, Roz, is in sixth grade at Davis, said she appreciates the opportunity for her daughter to mingle with students from both worlds.

"We live in a neighborhood where there are no kids her age. Being at Davis and communicating with hearing children gives her more confidence in her hearing and speaking skills," she said.

In middle school, students assume more responsibility, said Tedeschi.

"We put them out there like any other hearing child," she said, "and most of them don't realize we're pushing them out there. That's because we do everything behind the scenes to make sure they succeed."

Lori Peters is in her sixth year as an interpreter and goes beyond signing what the teacher is saying. If the teacher stops to reprimand a student, "I make sure my students know ... so if they are singled out for something they're doing later on, they won't feel picked on," she said.

Peters also signs for students who are involved in athletics, including football.

"I stand on the sideline next to the coach and send in the signals from there," she said.

"If there are audibles on the field and the play is changed, we've taught the quarterback a few signs to let our kids know," she said.

It would hard to find a bigger cheerleader for the Franklin County program than Scioto High School freshman Michael Meadows of Hilliard. He has a 60-percent loss of hearing and relies on an interpreter for most of his coursework. A hearing aid helps, but he can't wear it on the football field or while playing baseball.

"This is an awesome program," he said. "Not only has it helped me with my hearing and speaking, it's helped me in life, helped me overcome my weaknesses."

Coaches applaud work of interpreters on sideline

In the fall, football consumes most of Lisa Gates' free time.

But don't expect to see her in the stands cheering on her favorite team, the Irish of Dublin Scioto High School. She's the one on the sidelines, standing next to Coach Karl Johnson, lost in a sea of helmets and shoulder pads.

As an interpreter for the deaf with the Franklin County Educational Service Center, Gates begins her work in the summer when football practice begins and attends every game, interpreting for Devon Rich·rd and Matt Meleski. Over the winter, she worked with Meleski at wrestling matches and is now following the boys' lacrosse team with Rich·rd.

During a game, Gates follows Johnson and the other coaches up and down the sideline, signing instructions to the two athletes almost as fast as the words come out of the coaches' mouths.

"I situate myself to try and stay out of the way," she said, "but I need to be close enough to hear."

The other challenge is making sure the players know who is speaking, which coach, and then try to convey the inflection in that coach's voice in her movements so they will grasp not only what is being said but how it was said.

As a parent whose boys played football and as a member of the Dublin Board of Education, Julie Best knows first-hand the role of the interpreters on the playing field.

"I love to watch the interaction between the kids, the interpreters and the coaches," she said, "especially when the coaches are ripping the kids. I'll look at Lisa (Gates) and she'll be smacking her hand hard with the same emotion on her face as on the coach."

Having an interpreter at his side has been a learning experience for Johnson.

"The hardest part of coaching (deaf students) is making sure we communicate with the kids and don't get caught up with the interpreter," he said.

He speaks -- and yells -- knowing Gates will get the message through to Matt and Devon, primarily through specially developed signs so the opposing team won't know what play has been called.

Rich·rd appreciates what Lisa and the other interpreters do for him, both in the classroom and on the athletic field. "She keeps me informed, helps me picture things better in my head," he said.

Having worked with the program for three years Lisa "gets into the game and understands what we're trying to do, why we call certain plays," Johnson said. He also watched her during wrestling season with Meleski.

"Wrestling is so intense and she gets right down there (next to the mat) with the immediate communication he needed," Johnson said. "You can tell she loves it."

FCESE is looking for new home

For 15 years, the hearing impaired program of the Franklin County Education Services Center (FCESE) has called Dublin home.

It has moved from school to school but has always maintained space in an elementary school, middle school and high school in the district, with students from other districts arriving by bus or car for the day-long program.

Next year, Dublin will begin its own program for the hearing-impaired and Franklin County will move its program to another location, according to Cindy Eldridge, director of special education programming for Franklin County. Several central Ohio school districts are under consideration as the site and a decision is expected in the "very near future," she said.

The Franklin County program currently serves 34 students from 12 school districts: South-Western (eight), Upper Arlington (eight), Dublin (six), Hilliard (four), and one student each from Worthington, Big Walnut, New Albany, Grandview, Olentangy, North Fork, London and Delaware.

The program won't change with the move, said Marianne Hesseltine, FCESC special education supervisor.

The program provides continuity for hearing-impaired students throughout their entire public school education, she said. The students are in a regular classroom and are pulled out only for language/reading classes with instructors who teach the hearing-impaired at each school -- two at Wyandot Elementary, one at Davis Middle School and two at Scioto High School.

The FCESC also provides 21 interpreters, a part-time mental health consultant, a full-time speech therapist for the elementary and middle school programs and a part-time therapist at the high school level. All are fluent in sign language. Each district pays about $33,000 per pupil to Franklin County.

Copyright © 2003, ThisWeek Community Newspapers.