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September 22, 2005

Students feel beat, despite disability

From: Bradenton Herald, United States - Sep 22, 2005

Herald Staff Writer

MANATEE - When Chelsea Broxterman learned that two hearing-impaired students made the Southeast High School marching band this year, she reacted with surprise.

"I was like, 'How are they going to hear and play?' " said Broxterman, who plays cymbals in the band.

But the two hearing-impaired students, Laura Bradburn and Kashmir Roy, not only perform well on the tambourine and cymbals, respectively, they have taught Broxterman and others a lesson about the human spirit.

"The effect they have had on me is that I will never limit what I think about anyone," Broxterman said before a recent band practice. "They can play. They hear the beat of the drum. It's amazing."

Both Bradburn and Roy have profound hearing loss in both ears.

The girls don't hear the songs the same way others do. Instead they say they are guided by vibrations within songs.

"I feel the beat when we march," Bradburn, a senior and command sergeant major in Southeast's Junior ROTC, said through her interpreter, Beverly Kress, who was hired by the school district.

Bradburn remembers hearing Elvis Presley before she lost nearly all of her hearing from an ear infection at age 8.

She goes to school each day with Kress, who signs so Bradburn doesn't miss anything, such as morning announcements, which she can't lipread.

Being hearing-impaired doesn't slow Bradburn down during marching maneuvers on the football field. She relies on feeling the beat and memorizing different fluctuations in the rhythm. As the drummer hits a certain beat, Bradburn knows she should be on her left foot.

"I feel the vibrations of the drum through my hands and my entire body," said Bradburn, who plans on a career in the U.S. Coast Guard after graduation.

Bradburn was told in other schools that she wasn't right for the marching band because of her impairment.

But it wasn't something she was going to accept.

"I wanted to march because I wanted to make friends and talk and have fun, like everyone else," Bradburn said.

Roy shared a similar frustration.

"I wanted to be part of a band for as long as I can remember," Roy said. "They wouldn't let me in other schools because I was hard of hearing. I guess they didn't trust me that I would play the right notes or could get pitch or rhythm. As it turns out, all of that was simple for me once I tried."

Southeast High is fertile soil for both girls because it celebrates diversity in its student body, said Brenda O'Connor, assistant principal.

Pam Chaffin, director of bands at Southeast High for three years, remembers her first meeting with Roy.

"She approached me and asked me if she could join the marching band," Chaffin said. "I wondered if she could hear the rhythms or know when to play. But I said, 'Come on. Let's give it a try.' "

Roy had been taking trumpet lessons, but Chaffin and Roy decided that because her trumpet tones are not yet perfect, cymbals might be best for her in marching band.

"Kashmir can feel the rhythm really well," Chaffin said. "Somehow, both she and Laura can tell by the rhythm where they are."

Roy, who, like Bradburn is in Junior ROTC, is an easy-going kind of girl who loves movies, TV, and removing her ear piece so she can sleep soundlessly until 11 a.m. on Saturdays.

Don't tell her she can't do something because she has a disability, her mother, Bobbie Roy, said.

"If people call her deaf she corrects them," Roy said. "She says, 'I am not deaf. I have an implant. I can hear.' "

Roy, 15, who was named after a Led Zeppelin song her parents liked, could hear at birth, but began losing her hearing as a child.

When she was 9, doctors surgically implanted an electronic device, including a magnet called a Cochlear implant, in her head. She could hear, although not in the same way many other people perceive sounds.

"She calls it an electronic way of hearing," Bobbi Roy said.

Roy wears a battery-powered receptor equipped with another magnet over her ear that reacts with the magnet in her head to create sort of dueling microphones.

Before the band goes out, Roy powers up her batteries, which stay strong for only a few hours.

Bradburn and Roy are among 45 hearing-impaired students in Manatee County. Southeast High also has a third hearing-impaired musician not in the marching band - Ryan Moulliet, a junior who plays the clarinet in the wind ensemble.

When the Seminoles played their first football game of the year at Manatee High, Bobbi Roy was on the sidelines - watching, with a choked up feeling in her throat.

Bradburn's mother and cousins were at the game, too.

"When they marched out, I just like cried from the moment I saw her," Bobbi Roy said. "There were two cymbal players in the drum line in front of the band and one of them was my daughter. I said, 'Please don't mess up.' She just did really well. I was just overjoyed."

Broxterman said she now sees no differences in Roy and Bradburn and other students. Their disabilities have disappeared.

"If I had to describe them, they are both fun, nice with big hearts," Broxterman said.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917 or

© 2005 Bradenton Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.