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November 2, 2004

Deaf students get tutoring

From: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle - Rochester,NY,USA - Nov 2, 2004

Free after-school program gives kids extra help

Greg Livadas
Staff writer

(November 2, 2004) — In an innovative program available to any student in Monroe County, an after-school drop-in center for students interested in a bit of tutoring is now offered for deaf and hard-of-hearing kids.

The Rochester After School Academy at Rochester School for the Deaf opened in September, but the free services aren't limited to RSD students.

"If I was a parent, I'd think it'd be too good to be true," said Nisha Cerame, RSD's director of development.

Some of the students work at desks by themselves, typing on computers or doing their homework. If they get stuck on a question, they ask for help. All five tutors, including coordinator Mick Posner, are deaf, skilled in sign language and have experience tutoring.

"Most of them come here on their own," Posner said, looking at six students who were in the new classroom.

Tiffany Barker, 13, of Rochester recently sat at a desk and turned on a laptop computer featuring a screensaver of B2K, a new band she enjoys. "I come here for help and to do my homework so I can learn better," she said.

But another student, sitting by himself, had trouble with his vocabulary assignment, which asked him to use the word 'slung' in a sentence. When American Sign Language is your native language, learning words that don't have unique signs can be a challenge.

That's when tutor Brian T. Berlinski, 24, of Rochester sat next to the ninth-grade student and spent several minutes helping him.

"What happens when you throw a soccer ball, what happens?" Berlinski, using sign language, asked the student. Together, they found "sling" in the dictionary and the meaning was conveyed.

Berlinski said deaf children are often confused by idioms such as "I'm in a pickle" or words with dual meanings, such as to "cry" tears and to "cry" out loud.

The program, operating on $200,000 a year for five years, is administered through the city of Rochester. The money is from the federal No Child Left Behind Act and is given locally through a New York State 21st Century Community Learning Center grant from the state education department.

"We really view our partnership with RSD as a very unique one, not only serving the needs of city youth who will receive services, but all kids in the area," said Jackie Campbell, the city's director of Bureau of Human Services, which oversees 16 after-school programs in the city.

More than 40 students have regularly visited the center, which is equipped with $80,000 worth of new furniture and technology, including laptop computers and monitors that will allow video conferencing with a school for the deaf in Sydney, Australia.

So far, however, all of the students benefiting from the new center attend RSD; most live on campus during the week. The staff hopes deaf and hard-of-hearing students mainstreamed in other schools will also take advantage of the free tutoring there.

Not only would their grades benefit, but the tutors act as positive deaf role models, and mainstreamed students would get a chance to socialize with other deaf students.

"To have deaf and hard-of-hearing students be able to interact with other deaf and hard-of-hearing peers and adults, we think it's a great idea," said Marty Nelson-Nasca, coordinator of the deaf/ASL educational department at BOCES No. 1, which provides support services for nearly 200 deaf and hard-of-hearing students in 90 schools in seven area counties.

She said deaf and hard-of-hearing students who are mainstreamed in public schools usually can get the help they need at their own schools if special arrangements are made. But the center at RSD provides another opportunity for kids who may want help studying for Regents reviews or to prepare for college entrance exams.

"Every school district does their best to provide one-on-one support within the classroom," Cerame said. "This is a special opportunity as a drop-in center, where they don't feel they need emergency help, but there are qualified tutors there to provide a little extra help."

JoAnne Paton moved to Brighton from Vermont last year specifically because the Rochester area has abundant services for deaf people. Her daughter, Shannon, 15, is deaf and is a freshman at Brighton High School.

Paton said her daughter is doing well in school but needs more socialization. Shannon would like to attend the program at RSD, but they need to find a way to get her home; the program only provides free transportation to RSD.

"This is something I definitely want to be involved in," JoAnne Paton said. "There's a definite need."

For information
What: Rochester After School Academy, tutoring deaf and hard-of-hearing students in grades 4 to 12 who live in Monroe County.

Where: Rochester School for the Deaf, 1545 St. Paul St.

When: Monday-Thursday, 3-7:30 p.m. Saturday sessions upon request.

Cost: Free. Free transportation is available to take students to the school within a 15-mile radius.

Contact: (585) 336-5855 (voice); (585) 336-5860 (TTY); or e-mail