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November 24, 2003

11/24 SILENCE IS BROKEN: CISD extends helping hand to deaf children

From: Corsicana Daily Sun, TX - Nov 24, 2003


Children who live in a silent world get the support they need to reach their full potential thanks to Corsicana ISD's Regional Day School Program for the Deaf.

Coordinated by Kathi Perez and staffed with six specially-trained teachers and seven interpreters, the program serves 23 school districts in eight counties. A communication specialist and classroom aides are a vital part of the support network as well.

"Right now, we have students coming into Corsicana, or teachers going out to the home schools in 17 of those districts," Perez said. "The rest of the school districts are a part of our program, and if they were to get a deaf or hard-of-hearing child, then we would serve them in one way or another."

She said the program is currently serving about 35 students from Corsicana, and another 35 in outlying districts.

Depending on their level of need, some children spend their school day in Corsicana. In other cases, teachers go out to the home school district and provide whatever level of support is necessary.

"Most of the children who come into Corsicana need to learn sign language, so we provide that," she said. "We also have interpreters that can go out with students so they can stay in their mainstream classes."

No two children's needs are exactly the same, so some students spend all their academic years in a self-contained classroom environment, starting at the pre-K level. Others are able to achieve success in an ordinary classroom setting with the help of an interpreter. Services such as speech therapy are available to those children who can function with the help of hearing aids.

During her four years in the program, Perez has worked with children as young as six weeks of age, all the way up to high school seniors.

Support services go far beyond teaching American Sign Language and interpreting in the classroom. Signing classes are available for parents, and Perez recalled one student whose parents successfully learned English and sign language at the same time.

She goes to every ARD meeting in the eight-county service area in which there is a hearing-impaired child involved, and visits the classrooms regularly to monitor activities.

Along with academics, children in the program learn coping skills such as the proper way to get someone's attention, and they are taught the social skills that apply to their lives.

"What hearing people don't understand is that, if you listen to two people talking, that's eavesdropping," Perez said. "Well, if two people are signing and I'm watching them, I'm eavesdropping because I know what they're saying."

Community support is yet another element in the effort to help the hearing-impaired live successful and productive lives. Perez pointed out that most people in the speaking world are very considerate, and patiently communicate by writing out questions and answers.

"Also, you can get a sticker that goes on the back windshield of your car that says deaf driver, and that's one of the things I emphasize for the students who drive," she said.

At the state level, lawmakers have recognized the benefits of getting children into a structured program as early as possible.

"Texas is now one of 38 states that requires a hearing test at birth," she said. "So, if there is a hearing impairment, we can begin working with the child and correcting and doing what we can do."

During a Thanksgiving feast Friday, program staff, CISD administrators and parents joined students in this annual program highlight. The district provided the turkey and dressing, then teachers and interpreters brought their favorite side dishes and students made table decorations.

"I have wonderful teachers, and I can't say that enough because they make this program," she said. "Our students are just great, too, and the administrators are very supportive."

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