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December 12, 2003


From: The Southern Illinoisan, IL - Dec 12, 2003


MARION -- The annual Christmas program at the School for the Hearing Impaired in Marion is more than just a cute program for parents. It also serves as a mini-homecoming for former students.

A small group of them sat at the back of the room after the program was over, talking excitedly in sign language and catching up on old times.

"They'll be here till we shut the lights out," Deanna Carter, a communications disability teacher, said. "They don't see each other often."

The school is a regional center offering public education for children in 22 Southern Illinois counties with hearing impairment or communication disorders. There are about 85 children in the program

This year's theme was "Dreams of Christmas." Every one of seven classes was responsible for its own one-act contribution to the program. Each class represented a family member in a fictitious family, and represented that individual's dream of a perfect Christmas. The program is written entirely by the students and their teachers.

Britney Murray, 14, a hearing-impaired student, was the memory of a young sweetheart in the section where the grandmother dreamed of her ideal Christmas.

"Her dream was an old-fashioned Christmas," Murray said, speaking through a sign-language interpreter. "I enjoyed acting."

Kendra Foster, a former student whose son now attends the school, said she thinks it is important for parents to see what their special-needs children are capable of doing.

Darin Lenich, an assistant teacher and former student, said, "It's really amazing for the parents to be shown what the children feel. It's a great opportunity for parents to see and understand part of deaf culture."

Evelyn Lenich, Darin's wife and also a former student, said the school encouraged the children to accept the challenges they faced and not to be afraid to get an education.

"I think a lot of parents see their child in this setting, and they feel like he isn't the odd man out here. They see their kids as part of a group, with their own peers and their own culture."

Carter said the teachers emphasize social skills more than most other schools do because that tends to be the weak area for the students.

"I really wouldn't say they are behind academically -- we have a lot of very bright students and children who are at their grade level. It's the social skills that need work. This school is one place where they can learn how they should behave in public. We rehearse things they don't have a lot of exposure to. For example, how do you behave at a movie? We are going to a movie next week."

Carter said the teachers emphasize visual learning and all manner of high visual impact events.

"The more hands-on visual experiences we can give them, the better," Carter said.

There are 11 teachers at the School for the Hearing Impaired -- six for the communication disability students and five for the hearing impaired students.

For more information, call the Williamson County Special Education Director's office at (618) 993-2738.

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