Blind, deaf students find new path for learning
Arizona School for Deaf and Blind works with Humboldt schools
Two second-grade students at Coyote Springs Elementary School in Prescott Valley watch for the flashcards to flip. With big grins, they dash off their answers by spelling or signing words with quick fingers and gestures.
Keisha Mengarelli and Brody Young are two of 16 students attending two schools in Humboldt Unified School District under a partnership with the Arizona School of Deaf and Blind. They are deaf or hard of hearing.
Brody’s family moved from Payson so he could attend CSES. Both are students from Prescott Unified School District and both take a bus to Coyote Springs. Some students come from as far away as Ash Fork, said Danielle Cummings, program coordinator and supervising teacher for ASDB.
Why would parents want their child to ride a bus 90 minutes each way to school? It beats boarding school at the ASDB in Tucson, or limited time with itinerant specialized instructors. It also brings families together, said Ryan Ducharme, Chief Agency Relations Officer.
“Intervention services help out, but if they don’t know another family, they often feel lost. This program provides networking and support for students — and families,” he said, something parents in rural districts have found a challenge. If this model partnership works, it will be implemented in other rural areas.
The program serves 16 students from HUSD and other districts at CSES and Glassford Hill Middle School. In the classroom, one teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing and one teacher of the visually impaired work with eight elementary students, along with an interpreter and an instruction assistant. Without the consolidation and partnership, these students would rely on six specialized traveling teachers, thus saving on districts’ costs.
“We are thrilled with this partnership as we believe that ASDB is a perfect fit for our vision and core values,” said HUSD Superintendent Dan Streeter. He said students are receiving a remarkable, inclusive education.
One parent said she appreciates having an interpreter available every day for her son, and a teacher for the deaf working with him and two other students an hour a day. His vocabulary skills have “skyrocketed” and his world has brightened up.
Instead of feeling isolated as the single student with disabilities in a school, these children are interacting with peers with similar hearing or sight issues, as well as with regular students.
Indeed, a new group has sprung up at CSES for hearing students wanting to learn American Sign Language. The ASL Club meets after school one day a week.
“It gives the opportunity — sometimes for the first time — to be the ones who know more,” said Cummings, in addition to more time for socialization.
Erin Humphreys, CSES teacher, said all her students wanted to sign up for the club. The first meeting elicited 30 members, plus two hearing-impaired students. While there’s no interest yet expressed for learning to use the Braille machine, Humphreys said she could see it happening.
Music teacher David Johnson put sounds to some of the signed words in his original compositions. While Brody rests his hand on Johnson’s guitar, and watches his interpreter, he “sings” along with his classmates.
In a fifth-grade classroom, twins Cindy and Sandy Castellon use Prodigi devices to illuminate and magnify their worksheets. Cindy works on the carpet, Sandy at her desk. They both have a juvenile form of macular degeneration that may or may not progress.
Nearby, Zane Cummings chooses not to use his device, instead relying on worksheets with long division problems printed big enough for him to see and solve.
Zane attended a charter school until his teacher retired. Humphreys said Zane was pulled out of his regular classroom based on the visually impaired teacher’s schedule. In this new program, the teacher looks at Zane’s schedule for best times to meet.
All three also are offered audio books, handheld magnifiers, or Bluetooth cameras to read the board — whatever tool works best for the specific activity and for how each individual learns best. They bring the hand magnifier with them on library days, for instance.
“As students get older, the font size in books gets smaller,” Humphreys said. She sometimes takes them to the Prescott Valley Public Library to check out large print books, but the choice of grade-level materials is limited.
Logan, a second-grader, has not let his visual impairment stop him from being the school’s “ambassador.” He has been a student at CSES for three years and often shows new students around the school.
Logan’s education includes learning navigational and cane skills. He uses both the Perkins manual Braille machine and the Smart Brailler, which pronounces each letter as it is embossed on cardstock paper.
The program has initiated family support groups this fall. They are able to share safety strategies with each other, Cummings said.
For instance, when a child outgrows holding a parent’s hand, for example, they can be taught to look for a bracelet instead of walking off with someone in jeans like mom wears, or with someone in a ball cap like grandpa wears.
Because Logan has limited sight and can pick out bright colors, his dad will wear fluorescent orange T-shirts when they are at public events.
Zane is practicing walking on his own to the park for soccer practice. His team uses a bright yellow ball at practice and sometimes in games.
“He wears transition glasses because bright light bothers him. He has fun. He can block well, but is not a top scorer,” Cummings said, adding that her son can ride a bike, and he also started riding horses with Horses with HEART at age 3.
The district is looking at expanding its preschool that serves the general population as well as students with special needs. Currently in the Early Childhood and Family Education program are eight students – five deaf/hard of hearing and three visually impaired from the quad-city area.