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November 18, 2004

Kopp's silent world full of success

From: Columbus This Week Newspapers - Columbus Area,OH,USA - Nov 18, 2004

Student elected Huy president

Thursday, November 18, 2004

ThisWeek Staff Writer

The student council adviser at Huy Elementary School couldn't find the president's gavel. But that didn't matter to fourth-grader Maggie Kopp as she presided over her first meeting last Thursday.

When she needed the group's attention, she just stood up, and when she wished to call on someone, she pointed.

Maggie is deaf -- the term she prefers over "hearing impaired" -- but that fact no more held her back at the meeting than it does with anything else.

It certainly proved no impediment when she ran for student council president.

She competed against three other students and confronted her deafness head on.

During an interview last week, she brought out a written copy of the speech she had delivered to the students, speaking in American Sign Language (ASL) through an interpreter.

Written on the copy were these words: "Don't decide not to vote for me because I'm deaf. I still can do amazing things.

"Here's what I'll do if I get to be president. I'll try to make Huy a better school for all of you and add at least one 'fun day.' ... "

She was as good as her word. At the first student council meeting, she took suggestions for a fun day: ideas included pajama day, game day, funny hat day and movie day.

To the latter, Maggie's eyes lit up and she signed, "That's a good idea."

It wasn't a campaign promise, but Maggie also wants to reestablish the BUG program. Standing for "Being Unusually Good," BUG rewarded students for going out of their way to do something nice.

Last year, top students in BUG earned a limo ride to a pizza restaurant.

"I'd really like to do that again," Maggie said.

While Huy is a mainstream elementary, it is part of the Columbus Hearing Impaired Program (CHIP) for the school district, and is the designated school for students in grades one through five who use American Sign Language.

As such, there are five "deaf" classrooms, but the students there intermingle with the students who can hear.

So it's not unusual at Huy for hearing and deaf students to interrelate. But Maggie does exceptionally well, said Kathy Adkins, her science teacher. Maggie is the only deaf student "mainstreamed" in that class, she said.

"All the kids love her," Adkins said. "She is just a very nice girl."

"She is a very confident, assertive girl," said her mother, Debbie. "Maggie is a go-getter."

She also signs and finger-spells very quickly -- sometimes making it hard for her interpreters to keep up.

ASL is the language spoken at home, Mrs. Kopp said. Besides Maggie, members of the family who are deaf are her father, Dan, and 5-year-old sister, Lydia.

Her mom and brother Samuel, 3, are not.

Signing rapidly, Maggie said she "can do everything the hearing can do."

That includes playing violin, using sign language to sing in the choir, working as a lunch helper and talking while playing with her friends.

"She loves to chit-chat," said her mother. "She holds onto the swing with one hand and talks with the other."

Last year, Maggie also did something most hearing students struggle with: she scored a perfect 100 percent on the third-grade reading achievement test. That puts her in an elite group of one in about 250 third-grade test-takers in Ohio last year.

"I really love to read," she said. "I don't think it's hard.

" ... Some deaf kids do struggle with it," she added. "Maybe they don't have a love for reading so they don't develop the skills."

Maggie is convinced being deaf will not hold her back -- including in a future career.

"I want to work for the FBI or CIA as a spy, or be a famous scientist or maybe an author," she said.

Copyright © 2004, ThisWeek Community Newspapers.