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February 6, 2005

School teaches every student how to sign

From: Greeley Tribune, CO - Feb 6, 2005

Sherrie Peif, (Bio)
February 6, 2005

University Schools has been helping families communicate with their hearing-impaired children for more than 50 years.

The school for the hearing-impaired began when it was on the campus of the University of Northern Colorado. Ten interpreters and five deaf educators work around the clock to make sure students who are severe and profoundly deaf have access to education.

Director Greg Pierson said the program was a natural fit for audiology students at UNC. With all of Greeley-Evans School District 6 hearing-impaired students in one location, students had the opportunity to learn as a group rather than individually.

"It gave them enough students to learn from," he said.

But, during the years, it evolved into something more.

When the school lost its location on the UNC campus, the administration was not about to leave the program behind.

Today, 45 students attend mainstreamed classes on the new campus at 6525 18 St.

Norma Lou Eitemiller, the district's special-education administrator, said the program is designed to help students and their families get the best possible education.

"We have many tools at our disposal there from interpreters and closed captioning to surround sound and other audio devices," she said. "Based on an individual's need, we are able to supply them with whatever encourages their success."

The program, which is funded through District 6, does have its limits. Although the school would like to help students with any degree of hearing loss, only those diagnosed as severe and profoundly deaf are accepted without the usual requirements for admission to the school.

As a public charter school, University enrolls students each year based on a lottery system. However, Pierson said many people still don't understand no tuition is needed to attend the school.

"The school is available to anyone who would like their children to attend," he said. "They only need to fill out an application. There are no geographic or economic stipulations."

What makes the school so special, Pierson said, is all students at the school receive sign instruction so everyone can communicate.

From kindergarten through fifth grade, students are given lessons several times a week to develop their skills. By middle school, most know basic American Sign Language and can sign with anyone on campus.

Others, who show interest in learning more, are given the choice of a classroom known as TLC, which stands for Thinking - Learning - Caring, a combined third- and fourth-grade classroom. Students who are deaf and hard of hearing are mixed with other students and instruction is built on a co-taught model. Students receive instruction from a regular teacher and a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing.

Students who are hard of hearing are taught in a regular class environment, while students who can hear learn sign language through immersion.

Students are given as much one-on-one interpretation as needed, including athletics. So long as the student has a medical clearance, interpreters are provided for all practices and games, including road games.

"The program really encourages all our students to mainstream and feel as much a part of this school as the hearing students," Pierson said.

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