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June 4, 2004

Hearing impairment doesn't silence Boys State attendee

From: Aberdeen American News, SD - Jun 4, 2004

Tea Area student, interpreter keeping busy in Aberdeen

By Karen Ducheneaux
American News Writer

Today is a big day for Nick Engstler.

Today he finds out if he's been elected Secretary of State for Boys State.

Engstler, 17, a junior from Tea Area School, won the nomination from his Nationalist Party by a landslide and today Boys State voters will choose him or the Federalist Party's nominee.

One of the issues Engstler has pushed for as a member of the Boys State education committee is to require teachers in schools for the deaf to possess a deaf education degree.

The topic is close to his heart. "I was born with a hearing impairment," he said.

His condition requires him to read lips and have an interpreter at school.

"I have a younger brother who is 14 who is completely deaf and my mother is also hard of hearing," Engstler said.

In fact, he said, his family has had five generations of deafness. "I'm really proud of that."

Engstler said, except for laughing a little late at jokes, he hasn't had a lot of trouble keeping up with what is going on at Boys State. The weeklong program is held annually at Northern State University and teaches high-schoolers about government and civic duty.

"My wonderful interpreter has been helping with the speakers," he said.

Bonnie Harmsen, of Sioux Falls, works at Tea Area School and interprets for Engstler and his brother.

"I work for a school district that's incredibly supportive of special needs," Harmsen said.

When the news came that Engstler had been accepted to Boys State, there was no question, Harmsen said. The school district immediately agreed to pay to send her to Aberdeen to interpret for him.

Harmsen said she hasn't heard of any other deaf student ever attending Boys State. "If it's not the first time, it's the first time in a long time," she said.

But Engstler doesn't feel his disability has held him back at Boys State. "It's more intellectual work," he said, "and it's not like anyone else is doing the work for me."

Apparently the other students find him capable as well. Besides his secretary of state nomination, he's also a city chairman, Engstler said.

He doesn't feel he's been unsuccessful communicating with other students, Engstler said. "They might have been uncertain about how to approach me, but there haven't been any communication problems."

Part of this might be due to his skill as a lip reader and his ability to speak very clearly.

Harmsen said some of the speakers have been a little hard to keep up with, and sometimes when speakers mumble she has missed things altogether.

"There are times I am working very, very hard," she said.

She's also working very, very long. In a normal school day Harmsen will interpret for six to seven hours, she said, but at Boys State she's been working up to 14 hours each day.

Harmsen feels more out of place at Boys State than Engstler.

"It's interesting to be the only female worker with 500 (boys)," she said.

Although she's only been working as an interpreter for a year and a half, her association with Engstler goes back further than that.

Before moving to Tea, Engstler attended the Iowa school for the deaf. Harmsen met him while working as a student teacher there.

Later they ran into each other while she was substitute teaching at Washington High School, where Engstler also attended school for awhile.

Harmsen said when she applied for the job at Tea Area School, she didn't know she would be working with Engstler and his brother. During the interview she was asked if she knew the boys.

"I said 'I love them, they're wonderful,' " Harmsen said. She was hired on the spot.

She said that South Dakota has been a leader in services for hearing impaired students.

"South Dakota was the first state to require interpreters to be certified," she said, and most other states have since followed suit.

© 2004 American News and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.