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November 30, 2003

New Challenge: Garcia leading deaf-ed students at Fannin

From: Corsicana Daily Sun, TX - Nov 30, 2003


Cynthia Garcia saw the signs of change coming this year.

There weren't enough students to fill her kindergarten class at Carroll Elementary, and this 11-year veteran teacher sensed it was time for her career to take another path.

When the offer came from Corsicana ISD officials, however, she was stunned.

"They said they needed somebody at Fannin right now in the deaf-ed program, and asked me if I could sign," she said.

Although she has been deaf since age 4, she had compensated by learning to read lips -- speech reading, it's called now -- but American Sign Language was foreign to her.

"I was very worried, because all I knew was English (sign language) and I had forgotten most of it," she said. "When they told me all they do is American Sign Language, I knew I was going to run into problems, and I did have a lot of trouble communicating at first."

But, Garcia is not one to shrink from a challenge. For years, she has successfully taught hearing children their letter sounds by watching their lips as they speak.

Now, after only two months, her signing skills have improved tenfold, and she knows she has found her niche.

"I see myself all over again when I look at these little children," she said. "But, there is so much they have to learn these days, we are really challenged to bring out all their potential."

To reach her own potential, Garcia has placed herself on a steep learning curve, working to earn her deaf-ed certification and learning the language her students use to communicate.

She said much of the credit for her ongoing success goes to Fannin Principal Steve Brownlee, deaf-ed program coordinator Kathi Perez and classroom aide Paula Lewis.

"They have been so supportive, and Kathi got this for me" she said, indicating a software program which is much like a foreign-language translator.

"You click on a word and it shows you how to sign it," Garcia said.

One of the first goals she set -- and accomplished -- gave her eight students in grades two through five an extra incentive to improve their reading skills.

"We read a lot, but I was told they weren't on the Accelerated Reading Program," she said. "That's when I told them these children can read and they should be on that program."

Students get prizes for reading grade-level books then passing a comprehension test, and she said the next step is getting the program on her classroom computer.

"They were nervous at first about taking the test, but they were excited to be doing what the other children are doing," she said.

Garcia quickly discovered her students sign as they read, and they need to read their book several times to master its content before taking the test.

"We have to go over it again and again and again to make sure they understand the story, but most of them do," she added. "I'm really proud of my kids."

Overall, she has set the same lofty expectations for her students as she has for herself, and her can-do attitude is paying off.

"I had no idea this would be so overwhelming," she said. "Their potential is so great, though, I want to get across to them that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up."

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