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October 18, 2004

Deaf education program offers resources, support

From: The Olympian, WA - Oct 18, 2004

N. Thurston district draws students from all over South Sound


LACEY -- Eight-year-old Raymond Roland enjoys reading and math.

But, like many kids his age, the boy's eyes light up at the thought of his favorite part of school: recess.

More specifically: a good game of tetherball.

The third-grader at Mountain View Elementary School in Lacey communicates mostly with sign language and relies on an interpreter for a majority of the school day. He is one of 21 students in North Thurston Public Schools' Deaf Education program, which draws students in grades kindergarten through 12 from schools all over the South Sound, including Tenino, Rochester, Olympia, Tumwater and Yelm.

"It is a regional program, although we don't necessarily serve all kids (with) hearing issues," said Lara Cole, director of Special Education for North Thurston Public Schools.

Most schools are able to meet a student's needs, but parents often choose to send their children to the Deaf Education programs that are run at Mountain View Elementary School, Chinook Middle School and North Thurston High School because they offer more resources and support for hearing-impaired students.

For example, the district has a full-time hearing specialist, known as an audiologist, who can regularly test students' hearing levels, Cole said.

It also has invested in some of the best technology available so that hard-of-hearing students can listen to classroom teachers through a specially designed sound system, she added.

In addition, the size of the program allows deaf children to get more interaction with their peers.

"They get a sense of community that they probably wouldn't have if they were the only kid with hearing issues," Cole said.

For some students, school might be their only exposure to sign language, said Deaf Education teacher Janette Majors, who works with students at Mountain View and North Thurston High School.

"Nationwide, only about 10 percent of parents learn to sign with their kids," she said.

At the elementary and middle school level, there's a strong focus on building students' reading and writing skills, Majors said.

Students often have a hard time grasping those skills since most of them communicate with American Sign Language, which doesn't use the same sentence structure, verb endings or words that they encounter in regular text books.

"There's always been an argument on whether we should use signed English and put all the endings on the words, or their native language, American Sign Language," Majors said. "It is considered an actual foreign language."

At the high school level, extra support is given to students to help prepare them for the real world.

Students learn about filling out job applications, reading warranties and other things that they will need to know to live independently, she added.

"It's more life skills," Majors said.

Not only do students have access to interpreters for their classroom, they can also obtain interpreters for clubs, sports and other school-related activities.

Jeannie Voisine, 28, of Olympia brings her 5-year-old daughter Rosetta to Mountain View every day for the Deaf Education program.

Rosetta is in kindergarten. She loves to color and watch Voisine sign stories to her, while she follows along in a book.

Her mother was once a student in Mountain View's Deaf Education program.

"It's very good," Voisine signed to an interpreter, about the program. "My daughter feels comfortable learning here."

Lisa Pemberton covers education for The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-754-5445 or

©2004 The Olympian, 111 Bethel Street NE, Olympia, Washington 98506, 360-754-5400.