Tulare schools at center of county's efforts
By Anita Stackhouse-Hite Staff writer
Romulado Cebellos, a deaf fourth-grader at Frank Kohn School in Tulare, doesn't like going to class with hearing students.
His explanation is straightforward.
"[It's] because they're too slow," he said through Leslie Thomas, his teacher and interpreter.
Cebellos uses American sign language to talk with his hands -- quickly. On one recent schoolday, his dark eyes sparkled and widened as he looked from his hearing classmates to the six deaf and hard-of-hearing students who shared his table.
It's easier to share and learn when not everything has to go through a translator, he said.
"We do more fun things in summer school, when only deaf kids are there," he said, smiling now. "That's because we sign together a lot."
When it comes to educating the deaf and hard-of-hearing, myths abound. If you think all hearing-impaired students are self-conscious, or that they consider themselves to be at a disadvantage, talk to Cebellos.
Or talk to Kohn School Principal Mark Jensen.
About 25 deaf and hard-of-hearing students come from all over Tulare County to attend Kohn and Live Oak elementary schools. There, Jensen said, such students get no special treatment when it comes to academic accountability or discipline.
Nor do they want it, he said.
"They don't expect to be treated differently," he said, noting that it's parents who, in some cases, expect more "leniency." "Aside from hearing, these kids are normal in every way. And I treat them that way."
Among the myths regarding the hearing-impaired:
All want to learn with hearing peers.
The hearing members of Elaine Schroyer's fourth-grade class were asked if they like having deaf and hard-of-hearing students in class with them. All raised their hands.
Asked the same question about hearing children, the hearing-impaired students were less enthusiastic.
"I want to go to Fremont and be with deaf kids all the time," said Cebellos, referring to the California School for the Deaf -- Fremont, which has a sister school in Riverside.
Deaf classmate Cheyenne Tusmon, 11, enjoys going to school with hearing students. Like Cebellos, however, she prefers playing with those who have mastered sign language.
It's just easier, she said.
The terms "deaf" and "hard-of-hearing" are interchangeable.
There is an official distinction -- although members of both groups may wear hearing aids. If the child's primary way of learning is visual -- sign language, pictures, graphics and drawings -- he or she is considered deaf, said Jim Beaucamp, Tulare County Office of Education audiologist. If the primary learning method involves sound -- even though the child may use sign language -- he or she is considered hard of hearing
They can't hear as well (or at all), so they can't learn as well (or at all).
The term "deaf and dumb," which began with Greek philosopher Aristotle, may have left some with a false impression. The deaf and hard-of-hearing are as intelligent as their hearing counterparts, Thomas said, but may lag in grade level because of language barriers early in life.
Children need a language base before learning to read and write, said Linda Mckean, director of the Tulare County Office of Education program for deaf students, and language development suffers when they can't hear words. In Tulare County, she said, interpreters and teachers of the deaf work together with other teachers to close the gap.
"One of the biggest obstacles they face is that people assume children with hearing loss are not [mentally] developed," said April Densmore, who teaches preschool-age deaf children. "That's just not true. They are just like every other kid, except they can't hear."
Coming Thursday: Part two of this series looks at the ongoing debate in the deaf community over whether signing or verbal communication is the better option for schoolchildren.'I'm good at everything,' deaf student declares
Some choose to hide the fact that they're hearing impaired, selecting hearing aids that are as inconspicuous as possible.
Not 10-year-old Salvador Garcia. He accessorizes with his. "I like yellow," said the Frank Kohn School fifth-grader, who wears twin, psychedelic-looking hearing aids that are a combination of yellow, blue and white.
Garcia, communicating through sign-language interpreter Shannon Williams, said he enjoys being with hearing children and going to school with them. Four or five of his hearing classmates have learned sign language so they can communicate with him -- and do it well, Williams said.
Garcia provides a good example of what the Tulare County Office of Education can do for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, his mother says. Claudia Garcia, who learned sign language in order to communicate with her son, said he didn't like preschool but has turned into a fine student.
The boy agrees. Salvador Garcia reads lips -- in English and Spanish, his father's language -- and has a sign vocabulary of about 1,100 words. "I'm good at everything," he said. And Garcia knows what he wants to do with his life.
"I want to be a doctor," he said in sign language, his hands flying about in the air with purpose. "Because I want to make people feel good."
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