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April 28, 2006

National science fair a first for the deaf

From: Providence Journal - Providence,RI,USA - Apr 28, 2006

Thirteen students from the Rhode Island School for the Deaf will compete at the fair in Rochester, N.Y.

Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE -- Christen Houde and Lessly Silva are no strangers to science competition.

The pair, both 16, won second place last month at the state science fair for their project, "The Effect of Calcium Supplements on the Decalcification Process." Their experiment showed how synthetic calcium supplements helped prevent chicken bones soaked in vinegar and water from bending. It proved more effective than natural calcium -- a result that surprised the two students.

"We thought natural would be better," said Lessly.

But today will be different.

The girls, along with 11 other students from the Rhode Island School for the Deaf, plan to board a bus at 5:30 this morning and head to Rochester, N.Y., for the first National Science Fair for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students. The two-day fair is sponsored by the Rochester Institute for Technology, which counts among its 9 colleges the 1,100-student National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

"We want to involve secondary school students in the possibilities of exploring their future and looking at careers in science," said Ginny Barley, a senior staff assistant at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, known as NTID.

The college, which was founded four decades ago, has interpreters, note takers and other services for deaf students, and it helps integrate them into classes offered at Rochester Institute of Technology's other eight colleges.

"Down the line, the students [in the science fair] might also possibly come to NTID, and this gives them a chance to see what kind of world is out there for them," Barley said.

Christen and Lessly say they are nervous.

"There will be a lot of people staring at us and a lot of judges," Christen said in sign language, translated by Jon Henry, an interpreter at the school.

Some of their classmates are relaxed about the trip.

"I feel great," said Luis Fernandez, 17. "I'm going to represent my school."

Luis, a senior, is considering attending the Institute for the Deaf this fall, and is looking forward to exploring the campus this weekend.

He won a scholarship to the Community College of Rhode Island, along with his science partner, Antonio Gomez, 16, for their project "The Factors Affecting an Inelastic Collision of Two Marbles." But Luis said he would prefer attending Rhode Island College or a school that is designed to serve deaf students, such as NTID or Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the nation's oldest university for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Luis said he hopes to study science and perhaps become a veterinarian. He has worn a hearing aid since he was young, and follows conversations by reading lips.

The students' science teacher, Joyce Doblmeier, will stay at home this weekend to care for her ailing mother, while other teachers travel to Rochester with the students.

Just a handful of deaf students other than the local students are registered for the fair -- one from New Mexico and two from upstate New York, but Doblmeier's students are looking forward to meeting them and being in "an environment where there are no barriers to communication, just like being at school," Doblmeier said.

The Rhode Island School for the Deaf serves a diverse group of students, ranging in age from 3 to 21.

"These students all work really hard and they want to achieve at the same level as hearing kids," Doblmeier said. "But they don't all have full access to sign language at home, and so they have to do all their project work in school."

The Rhode Island School for the Deaf, which has about 102 students, is a place where "these kids can feel the freedom to express themselves and to be understood," Doblmeier said.

Her students have enjoyed participating in school and state science fairs for the past several years, she said.

"It shows what they can do, not what they can't do," she said. "They take pride in it."

Other local students who will attend the national science fair include:

Adam Richard, 14, of Achusnet, Mass., presenting "Characteristics of Environmentally Safe Natural Plastics."

Jordan Marcotte, 15, of Lincoln, and Erin Fernandez, 15, of Providence, presenting "The Effect of Friction on the Distance of Rolling Cars."

Ashley Byrnes, 17, of Mendon, Mass., and Jasmine McLean, 16, of Providence, presenting "The Comparison of Vitamin C in Fruits and Vegetables."

Jesus Bickmore, 19, of Pawtucket, and Jessica Wordell, 17, of Tiverton, presenting "The Comparison of Three Different Brands of Paper Towels."

David Alves, 15, of North Smithfield, and Christopher Morgan, 16, of East Bridgewater, Mass., presenting "The Determination of the Safest Products to Melt Ice." / (401) 277-7254

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© 2006 The Providence Journal Co.