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June 20, 2004

Inland students trade places with youngsters from different backgrounds for television show "Switched"

From: Press-Enterprise, CA - Jun 20, 2004

By JACQUIE PAUL / The Press-Enterprise

RIVERSIDE - Jerome Starr and Samii Emdur live thousands of miles apart and speak different languages.

But that doesn't mean they can't understand each other. And it couldn't keep them from becoming friends.

Jerome, a 17-year-old junior at the California School for the Deaf, Riverside, and Samii, an 18-year-old high school senior from Cherry Hill, N.J., recently got a chance to experience each others' lives for the ABC Family television show "Switched."

Samii Emdur of New Jersey, center, revs up before a pep rally with cheerleaders Sheree Horner, left, and Jessica Ensign.

Jerome spent a few days attending Samii's hearing school and living with her family. Samii, meanwhile, spent time in the dorms in Riverside.

Each learned about another way of life and said the experience has helped them build a friendship.

Jerome and staff at the Riverside deaf school hope the show also will illustrate to the hearing public that the deaf are capable of many things. The show will include excerpts showing Jerome babysitting, going to school and kayaking.

"I hope people will watch and say, 'Oh, deaf people can do anything,'" Jerome said through a sign language interpreter.

"Switched" airs at 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. The new season begins today, but it is not certain when Jerome and Samii's segment will be shown..

The switch

ABC Family producers contacted staff at the Riverside school in spring wanting to showcase a deaf student. The show involves switches between young people who come from different backgrounds. They often live in different parts of the country and have different cultural backgrounds.

Several students were interviewed for the segment involving the deaf school. Producers selected Jerome based largely on his bubbly personality.

"We saw him as an interesting individual because he was a cheerleader as well," said Pamela Harris, an associate producer for the show.

Hours before Jerome was whisked to the airport, he discovered he was going to New Jersey and Samii learned she'd be coming to California.

But neither knew much else until they arrived at their destinations.

Samii said it took her a few minutes to realize she was at a deaf school. She started thinking something was different "once I got out of the car and kids started walking up to me and a few kids started signing. I sign very basic. I can hold a conversation, but it's very minimal."

"I was in complete shock for pretty much the entire trip," Samii said.

Jerome, meanwhile, had challenges of his own. Although a sign language interpreter accompanied him, he was on his own when filming stopped in the evenings. Many times he had to write things out for Samii's family. But, he also took the opportunity to teach them sign language.

Jerome said the most challenging part of the trip was sitting in classes at Samii's school. Instead of the small, semi-circular table arrangements found at the school for the deaf, "the students sit in these long rows," Jerome said.

The ways of getting the teacher's attention were different, too. Instead of pounding on the desk, he saw students raising their hands. And he had a hard time making eye contact with teachers, something very important at his own school.

"I'm not used to a hearing school," Jerome said

At lunch, he discovered he had an advantage over hearing people. "Deaf people can talk while they're eating and hearing people have to swallow first," he said.

Samii, meanwhile, was surprised by the small class sizes at the Riverside school and the electronic "smart boards" in classes.

The challenge

The show also requires participants to complete challenges. They involve activities they might not otherwise have tried.

For Samii, that meant completing a cheer at a pep rally. For Jerome, it meant hitting white water rapids in a kayak. Both were a little nervous about their tasks.

Samii, who describes herself as an athlete, said learning the dance routine was hard.

"I would be the last person in my school to join a cheerleading squad," she said.

Jerome, meanwhile, babysat some cranky infant twins. And then there was the kayak. Jerome had never gone kayaking. It was an exciting, but nerve-racking experience, he said.

After being fitted with a kayak and learning safety procedures - like how to right the kayak if it overturns, Jerome was ready to go.

"I was rowing, it was very smooth," Jerome recalled. "Then we started to hit the rapids. It was very exciting but I was also nervous," Jerome said.

Other switchers

Jerome is not the only Inland teen who will appear on "Switched." Tiffany Nocon, 15, from Fontana and 20-year-old Adam Wylie of Rancho Cucamonga also will appear on the show.

Tiffany switched with a boy named Nick from Ohio and Adam, an actor, switched with a girl who lives on a South Dakota Indian reservation.

Tiffany, who is Filipino and attends the diverse Etiwanda High School, said it was different to be in an environment where 95 percent of the student population is white. The people in Canfield, Ohio, also live simpler, she said. "You never see Escalades or Hummers. There's no Atkins or Zone diet advertisements anywhere."

Tiffany's challenge also proved interesting. The hip-hop dancer found herself on the high school football team - the all-male football team.

"It was kind of intimidating," she said. "But I could tell they were going easy on me."

Fame and lessons

Jerome said he's excited about seeing himself on television in the near future. He's already enjoying fame at his old school, where students crowd around him to ask about his adventure. He's even autographed photos taken of his adventure.

Staff at the deaf school, meanwhile, hope the half-hour segment may change a life. A deaf student without role models to look up to may be inspired by watching deaf teachers on television, said Deborah Cook, outreach coordinator at the school.

"Just seeing deaf adults being successful and working...that's what we're really trying for is to inspire a student."

© 2004 Belo Interactive Inc.