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December 12, 2003

'Silent Sleigh' festivities include Santa, parade at school for ...

From: Press-Enterprise, CA - Dec 12, 2003

By JACQUIE PAUL / The Press-Enterprise

Seven-year-old Daisy Del Muro clutched two tiny plastic containers and patiently waited for Santa and Mrs. Claus to arrive at the social hall at the California School for the Deaf, Riverside.

"I want to give it for Christmas," the Hesperia girl said through a sign language interpreter as she held up the containers, which had child-sized rings inside.

Once Daisy got a chance to sit on St. Nick's lap, she took out the rings and presented one to Santa. The red-suited man slipped the ring onto a white-gloved hand, and then signed "thank you" to the little girl.

Daisy joined hundreds of children from throughout Southern California who visited the deaf school campus Thursday for the school's annual "Silent Sleigh" event. The program offers deaf and hard-of-hearing children a morning of holiday fun and a rare chance to talk with Santa. While hearing children can visit the local mall to ask Santa for gifts, "the deaf and hard of hearing kids can't do that," said Laurie Pietro, a spokeswoman for the school. "They don't have the liberty to talk with Santa Claus in their language."

Children who attended Thursday's event enjoyed plenty of other holiday delights as well. Students performed short holiday sketches and a signing hip-hop dance group rocked the school's social hall. Next came a parade down a portion of Horace Street - complete with the Ramona High School marching band and golf cart floats. A signing Ronald McDonald rode by in a convertible and pug dogs dressed in Santa suits cruised by in wagons. Teachers and school officials in vintage cars tossed candy to the crowd. Not even a Grinch could be glum amidst the festivities - and he wasn't, as he walked among the crowd, giving out candy.

CHP Officer Hector Castro cruised by in his patrol car, and then paused to sign greetings to the crowd.

Among them was Castro's 9-year-old son, Brandon, a student at the deaf school. He didn't know his father would be in the parade.

"He was very excited," Castro said. "He came up and gave me a big hug. Everybody said, 'There's your dad. There's your dad,' " Hector Castro said.

Teacher Sandy Hanson from Hollyvale Elementary School in Victorville said events like Silent Sleigh offer deaf and hard-of-hearing students the chance to spend a day at a place where they're not different.

"I think it's important for our kids to see there are so many deaf kids," she said.

Parent Peg Bartenstein of Gavilan Hills agreed. Her daughter, Julie is an eighth-grader at the California School for the Deaf, Riverside.

"It puts them in the Christmas spirit," Bartenstein said. "They feel special and important. All kids need that."

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