IM this article to a friend!

April 30, 2006

Mainstream education

From: The Columbian - Vancouver,WA,USA - Apr 30, 2006

HOWARD BUCK Columbian staff writer
Christina Stebbins leans forward, intently following the classroom lecture on compassionate care for nursing home residents.

Linda Barnard, a former nurse now teaching at the Clark County Skills Center, easily holds the attention of all 16 high school students. They come from as far as Ridgefield and Portland for her Applied Medical Sciences class.

But even when Barnard stands just three feet from her front-row desk, Christina's deep brown eyes are glued elsewhere: She's locked onto her American Sign Language interpreter, Dave Soelberg, who relays not only Barnard's points but also the questions and comments of others.

Even with bilateral hearing aids, Christina, 18, has only about 20 percent of normal hearing. She was born with 3 percent hearing. That makes Soelberg an essential part of her favorite class, which the Hudson's Bay High School senior hopes to parlay into nursing studies at Clark College next fall.

When Barnard dims the lights to use an overhead projector, a classmate takes notes for Christina. She can't follow Soelberg's signing, the overhead notes and Barnard's body language and still write. It's a frequent accommodation.

There's a similar challenge in Christina's final class of the day, an advanced pottery course at Hudson's Bay. Teacher Judy Cole hunches over the potter's wheel, sitting tight against Christina, gripping her hands to carefully mold a new bowl. Christina's attention is clearly torn between the spinning clay, Cole's firm voice over the din of the class, and the signs flashed by her second daily interpreter, seated nearby. It's a lot to absorb.

"She's showing me too many things. I don't know what to do," Christina concedes moments later.

"She just has to decide when to listen or watch the signing," says Cole, cognizant of Christina's added stress. "She can't hear me, so we kind of have to do it in slow-motion."

A large banner tacked to Cole's classroom wall reads "Patience & Perseverance." It could be the rallying cry for Christina and her family, winding up her K-12 public school journey.

Her trip began with an early infant program and elementary and middle school in the Evergreen district, which ran local deaf and hard-of-hearing courses. When the Vancouver district took over the program, she switched to Discovery Middle School, then Skyview High School for her freshman and sophomore years.

Frustration over communications and other support isn't uncommon. "Some days we do well, and some, we don't," says Kathy Stebbins, Christina's mother. The family often must fight for appropriate services, such as closed captioning for classroom movies. Christina attends special education math and English classes at Bay, where staffing changes have caused some stress. Abundant specialist and tutoring help in the lower grades drops off sharply at high school, Kathy notes.

By late 2004, Christina was intent on transferring to Hudson's Bay from Skyview, where her two hearing brothers had attended, Kathy says. She believes Bay teachers are more adept with deaf students, including part-timers from the nearby school for the deaf campus. Many in Bay's diverse, accepting student body know ASL, Christina says.

An example comes at lunchtime, when Christina socializes easily with both hearing and deaf friends. With years of speech therapy, she speaks softly but clearly.

After considering a career as an interpreter, school teacher or veterinarian, she's now keen on nursing. Her B and C grades are adequate, but she's at least two years behind in writing skills, Kathy figures. It's difficult to adapt ASL to the more complex English language that demands articles such as "the," "an" and "of." "We spend a lot of time going through papers making sure of all the smaller (words) that need to be there," Kathy says.

Christina has bigger things in mind: her graduation and the driver's license she recently earned (following a tussle with licensing officials). Always urged to participate, she's played school sports, has tried tap dancing and loves to ride motorcycles. The world remains open to her.

"She's getting very independent and confident," Kathy says. Whether in hearing or nonhearing situations, "she just adapts so well to her environment." Which only affirms the choice to keep her mainstreamed, despite the many struggles. "We've always tried to provide her both sides of the world, and I think we've done a good job," Kathy says. "I think she's done quite well."

©2006 All Rights Reserved