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May 18, 2005

Deaf students compete word for word in countywide bee

From: Miami Herald, FL - May 18, 2005


The word ''office'' was pulled out of a bag and announced. An interpreter turned to the contestant sitting center stage and signed the word. The student started scribbling on the board in front of her.

''Office -- that one's hard,'' mouthed the mother, sitting in the auditorium, knocking her fists together. The contestant's brother nodded in agreement, adding ''difficult'' in American Sign Language.

On Tuesday, Miami-Dade County Schools and the Hearing Research Institute sponsored the fourth annual Deaf and Hard of Hearing Countywide Spelling Bee. Eighty-five elementary schoolchildren from 10 schools gathered at Doral Middle for the morning event.

The competition was divided into two categories: oral and visual.

Oral students are able to hear when they are spoken to, sometimes with the assistance of hearing aids or surgical procedures. In this competition, words on slips of paper were pulled out of a Ziplock bag and read aloud, then put into a sentence by a teacher or interpreter.

''Promise,'' said one teacher, putting the word into context for her student. ''I . . . promise . . . to give you lots of homework. Promise.''

The visual category worked a bit differently.

Here, the interpreter pulled a word out of the bag. She rubbed her fists over her eyes, mimicking brushing away tears: the assigned gesture for onion.

The student had 30 seconds to write down the spelling and present it to the judges.

'Our goal is to maximize these kids' potential,'' said Dr. Robert Pickard, medical director for the Hearing Research Institute. 'It's a unique happening, a chance for self-esteem and extra prestige. It's a really cool idea, because people think, 'How do you teach deaf children how to spell?' ''

Each participant received a medal, a certificate of recognition and a T-shirt. First- through fifth-place winners in each category also got trophies, and the first-place winners went home with $50.

Among Tuesday's winners: Christian Bilbao, a fourth-grader from Auburndale Elementary, who also competed last year. Christian celebrated his win -- which came with the correct spelling of the word before -- by kicking up a leg, throwing his hands into the air and performing a victory dance. Then he turned and gave his interpreter a high-five.

None of the words were hard, he said. ''I covered up the words on the list with my hand and memorized them.''

Dennis Hoffman, Miami-Dade school's special projects coordinator for exceptional student services, distributed the list of words to be used in the spelling bee back in January. Teachers and students had several months to study the words, which increased in difficulty with each round.

According to Pickard, the average deaf student graduates from high school with the reading ability of a fourth-grader.

June Dressler, a Miami-Dade schools counselor for the deaf and hard of hearing, said the hearing disabled have job opportunities many of have never considered.

''Most jobs for the deaf are with computers, medicine and, surprisingly enough, agriculture,'' Dressler said. ''They can even go to medical school, although it's rare.''

Last month, Miami Southwest High School held a career fair for deaf and hard of hearing students at Robert Morgan Educational Center. The fair brought in potential employers, a psychologist and small business owners. The guests informed students about their options after graduating high school.

When he grows up, Christian wants to be a teacher. The workload, he explained, seems less daunting than that of other careers he could choose.

''I would want to be a policeman or a firefighter, but driving all those places is boring. It stinks,'' he signed to an interpreter, rolling his eyes and pinching his nostrils shut.

''Teachers just have to grade papers. I want to be a teacher.''

© 2005 and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.