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May 13, 2004

County's top teacher gets her message across

From: Clarksdale Press Register, MS - May 13, 2004

By DAVID HEALY, Staff Writer

Camille Haney's classroom at Sherard Elementary School looks like a typical one for children as young as four years old. Bright colors are everywhere, and almost every where you look there is something to play with or touch.

The children in the class seem content as well, and like most children their ages, they probably would rather play than work.

Watching Haney's three hearing-impaired pupils for a matter of moments on Tuesday, it's clear this is no typical classroom. For Haney, just getting the children to look at her at the same time takes a lot of patience.

Haney teaches students between the ages of four and eight years old at Sherard who are hearing impaired or developmentally delayed. It's the only classroom in the Coahoma County School District that provides this service for young children. Three of Haney's students are severely hearing impaired and two of them are autistic.

"Mrs. Haney has an incredible amount of patience," said Wesley Downs, who works alongside Haney as an educational interpreter along with co-worker Pam Byrd. "She is a very caring person, so she is naturally very caring with these children."

Those who work with her say it is Haney's patience, caring and understanding toward these children that has given her the honor of being this year's Coahoma County School's Teacher of the Year.

"She is an outstanding teacher, she gives her heart and soul to the job" said Sherard Elementary principal Jean Duff. "She shows a great deal of compassion for all her children."

Each school from the county submitted a nominee for the award, and the selection was made by members of the school district.

Haney was out of school teaching for 11 years when she decided to begin her career again 11 years ago. She had an offer to teach a gifted class, but she wanted to have a classroom with smaller children.

"I built a house that is way too big and cost way too much," said Haney, the wife of Coahoma County Prosecuting Attorney Kent Haney. "I needed something to do."

Even though she had never worked with hearing impaired children before, Haney took the position anyways. She was apprehensive.

"Mrs. Gussie Farris, who is in charge of special ed for Coahoma County said she knew I could handle it," said Haney. "I wasn't sure when I took the job, but now I can't believe how much I enjoy it. I get to keep the same children each year, and you can't help but love them. They become just like your own."

Like her students, Haney is learning on the job.

"I was brand new at this when I started and we are learning sign language together," she said. "At first I thought my fingers just don't want to cooperate, but it gets easier and easier. Every night I pull out my sign language book and learn more.

The students Haney teaches are learning a sign language called Signing Exact English, where there is a sign for every word in the English language. All hearing impaired children need sign language because there is a misconception that the hearing impaired should simply learn to read lips, but only 32 percent of speech is visible from a speaker's lips.

Haney said it generally takes five years for the students to learn the basics of sign language. "At this age, we are trying to teach them the basics, since none of these children knew this type of sign language when they came here."

The job is frustrating at times as well, and it's the small steps that make Haney proud of her students.

"Everyday we go over exercises where we answer and sign questions like, What is your name?, How old are you?, and What do you want? Usually, they say they want candy," she said with a chuckle.

"I have to be patient and show them that I love them. If they know that you love them, then they will want to do well for you."

©Clarksdale Press Register 2004