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May 5, 2006

For these students, horses beat robots

From: The Wichita Eagle - Wichita,KS,USA - May 5, 2006

The Wichita Eagle

Surrounded by an array of sophisticated equipment that included a bomb squad robot and a SWAT team camera, a group of Caldwell Elementary School students was unanimous when asked to pick a favorite of the many items on display.

"The horses," said first-grader Brandon Licona.

"The horses," said Samantha Bennett, a fifth-grader.

"The horses," added Candace Omstead, one of Samantha's classmates. "My favorite is always the horses."

As they interacted with more than a dozen Wichita police officers Thursday, these Caldwell students were asking and answering all questions in sign language.

They were among 35 Caldwell students who are deaf or profoundly hearing-impaired; the students were given a special demonstration Thursday of the latest police equipment.

Officer Charley Davidson, who learned sign language while growing up in a home with a deaf parent, helped coordinate the event. He said he's visited the school about a dozen times since being invited there by Veronica Frambers, the lead interpreter for the school district. She also learned to sign as a child.

"I just wanted to do something special for the kids," Davidson said.

Frambers said there are 23 district employees who work with deaf students. At Caldwell, the district's hub for deaf students, 35 of the 470 students are deaf or profoundly hearing-impaired.

An estimated 200 to 400 deaf people live in Wichita. For them, there can be serious communication problems when they're pulled over or have other dealings with police.

Officer Delana Maris said she decided to learn sign language after responding to calls where she found that the only way to communicate with a deaf person was in writing.

Although the department has interpreters for people who don't speak English, she said, only she and Davidson are there to interpret for the deaf.

Timothy Cooper, a fifth-grader, deviated only slightly from his classmates when asked what his favorite exhibit was.

"The horses," he signed to his interpreter. "The robot was really neat, too."

© 2006 Wichita Eagle and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.