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July 12, 2003

School making statement in silence

From: Cincinnati Enquirer, OH - Jul 12, 2003

By Jonathan Drew
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Three-year-old Mallory Eichler sits on a rug, her eyes wide. As other children move around, she waits. It's story time.

Wordlessly, teacher Cindy Kause opens a book, pointing to a picture of a bunny. She forms the sign for "rabbit."

Mallory grins and makes the same gesture.

They are communicating in American Sign Language at Alice Cogswell Center, a preschool for deaf and hearing children at the Ohio School for the Deaf. To immerse preschoolers in sign language, teachers communicate only with their hands.

At most schools for the deaf, teachers also use spoken English.

"The philosophy with the 'voices-off' program is that the deaf children are not at any disadvantage," said Principal Sharon Kellogg.

The hearing children at the Cogswell center have deaf family members. And most already have experience signing.

Most schools for the deaf use a method called "total communication" in which words are mouthed or spoken as a sign is formed, said Michael Bello, director of the Learning Center for Deaf Children near Boston. His school also keeps sign language separate from spoken and written English.

"We believe that language acquisition is critical for the cognitive growth of children and that the only way to do that is through a purely gestural language," he said.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 encouraged mainstreaming deaf students, saying special-education children should be with other students as much as possible.

"Those children who can hear better and develop spoken language tend to have higher reading levels," said K. Todd Houston, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Alexander Graham Bell Foundation. "That's why mainstreaming them is critical."

But Kellogg argues that deaf children who learn in a speaking environment are at a constant disadvantage.

"If you have a deaf child in a classroom where everyone is talking, no matter how good the amplifications are, they will miss something," she said.

Copyright 1995-2003. The Cincinnati Enquirer , a Gannett Co. Inc. newspaper.