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June 28, 2003

Sign language school in works

From: Appleton Post Crescent, WI - Jun 28, 2003

Charter facility would serve deaf, hearing students

By Kathy Walsh Nufer
Post-Crescent staff writer

APPLETON – A bilingual education program in which both deaf and hearing children learn via English and sign language might be Appleton's next charter school.

McKinley Elementary School special education teacher Curtis Fuller presented his idea Friday to the Board of Education's programs and services committee.

The school board is expected to give the go-ahead in July for Fuller to apply for a state grant to explore the possibility further. Charters are public schools allowed to waive certain state regulations in order to deliver innovative programs. Appleton is opening its 10th charter school this fall.

Fuller anticipates such a school would start with children in the early grades and grow, similar to district elementary foreign language immersion programs.

American Sign Language, a key means by which deaf and hard-of-hearing people communicate, is the third most common language in the United States.

Fuller hopes to attract children from Appleton's deaf and hard-of-hearing program if their families are interested. A charter would not replace the current program, however. It currently enrolls 35 children in pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

Fuller said the idea grew out of discussions with his wife, who is deaf, about adopting a deaf child. He said their hope was that the child could attend a school where everyone – hearing children and staff included – can communicate in ASL.

ASL is a visual, conceptual language with its own grammar and syntax. It differs from signed English typically used in school programs.

Fuller said research shows benefits both for deaf children – deaf youngsters raised by deaf parents who sign learn to read better than those raised by hearing parents who don't sign with regularity – and hearing children who are more visual learners.

Supt. Tom Scullen said that even if the idea doesn't become a charter, he welcomes this opportunity to learn how services are delivered elsewhere, such as Milwaukee Sign Language School.

Kathy Walsh Nufer can be reached at 993-1000, ext. 290, or by e-mail at

On the Web

For more information on Appleton Area School District's other charter schools visit

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