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Posted On: 2017-05-18 08:59 AM
By Amy Rolph, for Edkey Inc.
At Sequoia Deaf School, students learn everything from reading to geometry, just like other kindergarten through 12th grade students. But they also learn something more: Confidence.
"I want students to learn how to get through the barriers – not to give up," said Principal Dr. Heather Laine.
The small charter school, based in Mesa, Ariz., enrolls only deaf and hard-of-hearing students. It currently has 56 students enrolled from kindergarten through 12th grade, all of whom learn through American Sign Language and written English.
Students at Sequoia Deaf School are bilingual, but they're also bicultural, straddling two worlds, said Laine.
"We try to expose our students to both cultures – the deaf world and the hearing world," she said.
And though students spend their days with people who speak sign language, they also have opportunities to practice navigating the hearing world. Sometimes, this includes ordering food at a movie theater without an interpreter. Other times, this practice takes the form of flying cross-country to Washington D.C. for a college tour.
Confronting real world situations requires students to adjust. Students might discover that they have to write communications for hearing people who don't know sign language. Or they might be able to use a smartphone to help them communicate efficiently. But the goal for teachers at Sequoia Deaf School is to make sure students have the tools they need in any situation.
"We work hard to point out situations – and those teachable moments," said Assistant Principal Dr. JJ Reid.
Sequoia Deaf School is the only charter school in Arizona that's certified to teach deaf and hard-of-hearing students. It's one of 15 Sequoia Schools run by the Arizona-based non-profit Edkey. The school is funded by Arizona tax dollars, meaning families don't pay tuition.
And because the school shares a campus with Sequoia Charter – another specialized Edkey charter school – students can get more experience in the hearing world by opting to take some of their classes with hearing students when they reach high school.
"Our students can come into our school and feel self-confidence and pride for who they are," said Reid. "We're proud to be deaf, we have our own language, we're happy with who we are. Then they can go [to Sequoia Charter] with that self-confidence."
Organized athletics give Sequoia Deaf School students yet another chance to practice communication. There are two deaf students on the Sequoia Charter football team now, three deaf students on the volleyball team and two more on the basketball team.
"It's another great opportunity for our students to learn communication skills in team situations," said Reid. "And those will be applicable later in life."
The kindergarten through 12th grade structure and the shared campus also means deaf students can attend school with their hearing siblings, easing logistical stresses for families. And watching deaf teachers communicate with other teachers and adults that don't know sign language can be a powerful teaching tool.
Classes at Sequoia Deaf School are small, capped at eight (8) students per class in elementary school. Older students learn in blended classrooms, but follow individualized lesson plans that allow them to work at their own pace.
Ultimately, Laine wants students to be inspired to dream – and to understand that their future isn't limited due to their condition. Young children in elementary grades at Sequoia Deaf School are asked to identify future career goals, and then they meet with adults doing those jobs professionally to determine if their choice is a good fit.
"We start really early with the kindergarten students, exposing them to these things," Laine said.
The school also hosts a future-focused career event and invites deaf professionals to talk to students about their jobs, featuring experts from a chef to a graphic designer.
"We brought in all these people, community leaders, to speak about their job and how they got there," Reid said.
It's all part of their mission to help deaf students foster confidence in their ability to navigate the world and achieve their dreams, said Laine.
"I want to see our students be able to meet their goals, whatever their goals may be," she said. "I want them to have the best life. I want them to go to college, I want them to have work skills." You're deaf but you can do anything."
Learn more about how Edkey ensures deaf students achieve their academic, personal and professional goals at the Sequoia Deaf School website.
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