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April 7, 2003

Griffith’s goal: Understanding

From: Green Bay Press Gazette, WI - Apr 7, 2003

She’s expressive to help students who can’t hear

By Kelley Bruss

Michele Griffith talks with her hands. Sometimes she gestures broadly, her face providing emphasis with lively expressions.

But sometimes she uses quick, precise motions and her lips move, too, exaggerating each word as she talks to her students.

Griffith is a teacher for the deaf and hard of hearing at Lombardi Middle School.

Even when she’s not using sign language, she can’t stop her body from pairing with her voice to reinforce her point: Nothing can stop her students from learning when they’re given the proper tools and encouragement.

“She’s been working so hard for me to understand what she’s talking about,” said Jonathan Poupore, 14, an eighth-grader at Lombardi.

For her work at Lombardi, Griffith received a 2003 Golden Apple Award. The awards, sponsored by the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce’s Partners in Education, recognize excellence in education.

Lombardi is the Green Bay School District’s main site for middle-school students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Fourteen students are in the program.

Griffith spends parts of her day just with those students, teaching classes such as math and language arts.

But throughout the day, she also attends regular classes with her students, helping them by taking notes or adding further explanation to what the class teacher has said.

Bill St. John’s eighth-grade history class is one Griffith attends.

“I have the highest respect for Michele,” St. John said. “She’s a very dedicated teacher, very conscientious, very caring with her students.”

Griffith didn’t set out to be a teacher for the deaf. She was studying in a regular education program when she was somehow assigned to a deaf education classroom for field work.

“Never did I know how that actually worked out,” she said. “But I call it fate, or God telling me, ‘No, you’re not going to be in regular ed, you’re going to be in deaf ed.’”

St. John said Griffith’s sunny attitude spreads to those around her.

“No matter how bad the day has been … when she comes bouncing in the room with a smile on her face, she just picks up the room right away,” he said.

Poupore called his teacher both “fun” and “funny.”

“One time she did a cartwheel to get us to pay attention,” signed classmate Christin Christenson, also 14.

“She loves teaching,” Christenson added. “Once in a while she gets crabby when we’re not paying attention, but almost never.”

Principal Nancy Croy said Griffith does whatever it takes to help her students learn and also helps them be involved in school activities outside the deaf and hard of hearing program.

“She’s always gone out of her way to advocate for these kids and to do everything she can to make sure they’re successful,” Croy said.

Griffith sometimes has to be inventive. Subjects such as science and economics often include words or phrases that don’t have corresponding signs.

Teachers of the deaf use a method called Total Communication to introduce new material.

“That is, use anything that you can come up with … to get that concept across,” Griffith said.

She loves the moment when it becomes clear a new word or idea has clicked for her class.

“I usually get tears when it happens,” Griffith said.

Griffith doesn’t just love the job. She loves her students.

Christenson said it’s hard to explain how she knows Griffith cares about them.

“She just seems like she’s kind of like a mom to us,” Christenson said. “A lot of teachers don’t act like that but Ms. Griffith is like a different kind of teacher.”

Copyright © 2003