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June 6, 2006

Water day ends Phoenix Day School for Deaf's year

From: Arizona Republic, AZ - Jun 6, 2006

Amanda Anderson
The Arizona Republic

Phoenix Day School for the Deaf students ended their school year with a splash.

The water day with Phoenix firefighters was among several special events held throughout the year at the school that serves deaf and hard-of-hearing students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Since it opened in 1967 with 60 students, the school has grown steadily. It now averages 270-300 students a year ranging in age from 5 to 22.

Over the years, there have been many changes with how students communicate, thanks to the advancement of technology.

"Forty years ago, if they wanted to make arrangements with someone, they had to drive across town and knock on their door," said Laurie Elliott, the school's media technology specialist.

Today, many deaf students use a Blackberry, instant messaging, e-mail and video conferencing.

"It is empowering for deaf individuals," Elliott said.

There also has been an increase in non-English-speaking students at the school. With about 45 percent of students coming from families that speak primarily Spanish, they might need a Spanish and sign language interpreter to speak with family members. The school holds sign language classes on Thursday evenings during 20 weeks of the school year.

Although the school is in Phoenix at 1935 W. Hayward Ave., students come from around the Valley. Buses from the deaf school and other school districts make it easier for students to commute.

The school's curriculum is similar to that of a regular public school program, but modified to meet the needs of the hearing-impaired children.

Classroom sizes average six to eight students in the core classes, such as English and math. Small class sizes allow for the individual attention that the students need.

"The instruction needs to be intense, to develop competency in English," said Bradley Knudson, principal of the school since July.

With a curriculum including art, physical education, theater arts and sports, students are able to take on leadership roles. A member of the Arizona Interscholastic Association, the school competes against other schools in football, basketball and other sports.

"The key element is that they are going to become successful leaders," Knudson said.

Knudson takes great pride in the quality of instruction given to the students.

"Our staff is not only trained as elementary or secondary teachers, but have dual training with the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Some of our teachers also have master's degrees," he said.

At the Phoenix school, 62 percent of the students have documented secondary disabilities, including vision problems and orthopedic and cognitive limitations.

Despite these limitations, it was obvious at a recent school talent show just how well-rounded the students are, Elliott said.

"It was a wonderful event. Students signed songs, played piano, tap danced, and a student even roller-skated to music," Elliott said.

As the school approaches its 40th anniversary this fall, staff members are looking forward to the future of the school, which is part of the Arizona Schools for the Deaf and Blind.

"We are poised to see some tremendous growing success with our students' competency and literacy in their personal and professional life," Knudson said.

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