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November 14, 2003

Open house at School for the Deaf draws 1000 folks

From: Tri-Valley Herald, CA - Nov 14, 2003

Third-graders raise money for gorilla that knows sign language

By Jennifer Kho, STAFF WRITER

FREMONT -- "Two dollars, two dollars, two dollars," a student signed, auction-like, to visitors as she held an orange-and-green handmade picture frame in her right hand.

Students sold some school projects and displayed others Tuesday at the California School for the Deaf open house.

More than 1,000 visitors attended the event, which included tours, classroom visitations, displays and exhibits, a book fair and a student variety show. Two dozen outside organizations also had tables at the event.

It's awesome

"In all the seven years we've come, I've never seen an open house this big," said Melodie Ketchum, mother of Megan Ketchum, a seventh-grader at the school. "It's awesome this year."

It was fourth-grade student Samantha Davison's first open house.

"It's fun," Davison, 10, signed as she sold cookie-mix jars at the Junior Girl Scout table. She said she liked learning to make the cookie mix and selling it. "It's a feeling inside that I liked."

Helping gorillas

Third-graders at the school sold raffle tickets for three prizes -- the book "Koko's Kitten," a Koko bean bag and a plush toy -- to raise money to help The Gorilla Foundation build a natural-environment gorilla preserve in Maui.

Koko, one of the gorillas to be moved to the preserve, is the first gorilla to be taught a modified form of American Sign Language, as part of the Gorilla Language Project, also known as Project Koko.

According to Gorilla Language Project staff, the project has shown that an animal can possess qualities previously considered exclusively human, such as thought processes, imagination and feelings.

Raffle idea

Kathy Greene, a third-grade teacher at the school, came up with the idea for the raffle. After her students learned about Koko and the gorilla way of life, they wanted to learn how Koko was doing now. They found out she was 32 years old, and that the Gorilla Foundation was raising money to move her to a preserve. They decided they wanted to help.

"Koko wants to have a baby and we want her to have a baby because we want to know if she will teach her baby sign language," Greene said through an interpreter.

Third-grader Jacy Pederson, 8, signed that he was selling raffle tickets Tuesday "so the gorillas can have a new life and a bigger place to live."

Very cool

"It's very cool because of the sign language," he said through an interpreter. "I feel like she's just like me."

Greene said she hoped to raise $500 for the project.

Visitors included students' families, hearing students from other schools who were practicing sign language, deaf students considering the school, and interested community members.

Tammy Koll, a deaf education major at California State University, Fresno, said she came because she is trying to decide whether she wants to work at a mainstream public school or a residential school such as California School for the Deaf when she graduates.

"I am just blown away because this is totally different from a public school -- vivid colors and words on all the walls," said Koll, who is hard of hearing and attended a public school. "I wish I'd had that."

Staff writer Jennifer Kho can be reached at (510) 353-7013 .

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