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Quiet revolution at schools

Daily Democrat, CA - Aug 31, 2003

Deaf student paving the way

By PATRICIA VALENZUELA, Democrat staff writer

Tuesday is the first day of school. But while some students are making plans on what to wear and how to make a good first impression at least one is spending it quietly.

Thirteen-year-old Brandon Marin is one of many who will start seventh grade at Lee Junior High School. He is looking forward to his first day and is also a little nervous.

Brandon is making a major transition and paving the way for other deaf children including his 3-year-old sister Mia.

Brandon's parents learned he was totally deaf at 15 months. Soon after he was enrolled in a preschool class for the hearing impaired at Plainfield Elementary.

Brandon was educated with about six other deaf or hard of hearing children until he started the second grade. That's when his parents decided to mainstream Brandon with other Plainfield students.

"I knew what was going to happen if we didn't mainstream him right away," his mother Amy said. "If we didn't mainstream him it was going to be harder for him later to fit in."

Brandon was nervous about attending class with his interpreter. Unlike some who are deaf he can't lip read because he has never heard the sound necessary to formulate words. He's mostly worried how classmates would respond to him since most "kids don't know what deaf kids are about," he said through his mom.

That same nervousness has come back, yet he is excited and ready to start junior high school.

"I really would like to see other kids mainstreamed. I don't know why other kids don't go mainstream. . . I want to show all hearing people that normal deaf people are exactly like hearing people," Brandon signed through his mother. "The only thing different is that we can't hear. Hearing people cannot understand deaf people and I'm not happy."

Amy Marin said people oftentimes ask ignorant questions. She and her husband, Robert, have been asked if Brandon can read, if he can cry and even laugh.

People also have an inability to understand the struggles the Marins had when finding interpreters for after-school programs.

"People act like we should be grateful he can go to public school," Amy said. ".School has been hard for me.

"The kids aren't the problem. It's the school system that's been hard," she said, noting that while people have been helpful, the district often lacks the necessary resources to be of assistance.

Brandon may have two interpreters this coming year. His parents have requested two interpreters due to Brandon's accelerated classes.

John Cunnion, pupil services coordinator for the Woodland Joint Unified School District, oversees children with special needs at the district. Cunnion said parents are mainstreaming special needs children at a higher rate.

"Brandon is a very abled student. His only challenge is his hearing. He is a very bright young man, why not mainstream him?" he said.

The district has interpreters and is seeking to hire additional interpreters to meet special needs children.

Brandon's parents encouraged their son to be independent at an early age. When he was about 7 years old he would go into a store and make purchases by himself, and in the process gain confidence in his ability to interact with people who could not sign and communicate with him.

He also assists his first interpreter, Vickie Martucci, at the Woodland Farmer's Market. Brandon also keeps a pen and paper in his pocket to assist in communicating with others if needed.

However, Brandon can communicate with his parents just fine. Early in his life Brandon's parents took classes at American River to learn sign language.

Communicating with their son was their first priority, making sure he stayed with his family - where he belonged - was next on their list. Most of Brandon's classmates in the deaf and hard of hearing program at Plainfield left to attend the Fremont School for the Deaf.

Brandon also tried a hearing aid at the age of 6. He didn't like the hearing aid and decided not to use it.

"It didn't help me a lot and most of the time when the hearing aid beeped people would look at me and sometimes they would talk louder. I wasn't comfortable with it," he said.

Brandon will face new challenges at Lee. But more importantly, he will experience teenage life with his peers. Brandon is active in sports and plans on trying out for track.

Brandon wants to attend UC Davis' veterinary program. Brandon enjoys animals, including Master Luke, his dog. Brandon assisted veterinarians when Master Luke onetime ate a sock. The vet cautioned the family about Master Luke's ability to survive if he did not pass the sock.

So Brandon assisted the with X-rays and the ultrasound. He also insisted that he pay $500 of the vet's bills. So far he has worked off half of the debt by mowing the lawn and performing other chores.

When he isn't working on chores, he is an avid basketball fan. His favorite player is Kevin Garnett. He is also an Oakland Raiders fan. One of his greatest joys is wakeboarding. Brandon has also played soccer and basketball.

Amy and Robert have used their experiences to try and help other parents who have children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

"We've tried to talk to other parents and let them know there are options. If you don't sign you are not going to have good communication. That is the first thing you need to work on," she said.

Amy and her husband have also worked to educate passers-by in Yolo. A sign is posted near their home alerting drivers that deaf children are near.

Just as Brandon's parents learned to sign, Brandon's sister Karly learned to sign before she learned how to speak.

"We decided for Karly it was going to be very important for them to have communication. . . She really prefers to sign instead of talk. Karly has grown up in a deaf culture. It's been a part of her life," Amy said.

Karly is a big part of 3-year-old Mia's life. The two wore similar outfits for Mia's recent birthday.

Mia hopes to follow in Brandon's footsteps. The Marins have decided she will start kindergarten at Zamora Elementary.

Copyright 2003 Daily Democrat



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