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Sequoia Deaf School students master two languages at once

Posted On: 2017-11-14 09:06 AM
From AzCentral.com...


Cara O'Donnell, for Edkey® Inc.

Located on the same campus as Sequoia Secondary School in Mesa, Sequoia Deaf School offers K-12 education for children who are members of the Deaf community. Approximately 65 students attend the school, located near US 60 and Mesa Drive. It's the only charter school for the Deaf in Arizona.

Language is a central component of education at Sequoia Deaf School. Not only are students learning to read and write in English, they're also learning their primary language – American Sign Language (ASL).

"We're an American Sign Language-based school," assistant principal Jennifer Reid said. "We put an emphasis on reading and writing in English. Most of our students come to us without having much language at home between themselves and their parents. We're starting further back than where a typical kindergartener would be with linguistics. We're trying to get them to get caught up to their peers. They need a solid foundation in moving on to that second language, which is English."

Sequoia Deaf School uses a curriculum called Bedrock, which is a language-arts program designed for Deaf learners. Every lesson is taught in ASL. Once students master a concept in ASL, it's re-introduced in English.

"Our ASL and English teachers work together," Reid said. "It's imperative that these students learn their first language. Bedrock gives them that bridge to their second language, which is English."

Additionally, students at Sequoia Deaf School benefit from a grant from the Arizona Department of Education to teach soft skills – initiative, assertiveness, adaptability. These skills will make students more successful when they enter the workforce.

"The goal is independence," Reid said. "We want our students to be independent young adults who can, depending on their career goal, achieve that goal successfully."

In addition to receiving a traditional reading, writing, math and science curriculum, students at Sequoia Deaf School also work with instructors on vocational skills.

"We start that process when they're freshmen in high school, asking them, 'What are your goals? What do you like?'" Reid said. "We're working with the Phoenix Police Department right now to tour their training facility. We try to expose students to different careers."

One senior wants to become a crime scene investigator. Administrators at Sequoia Deaf School found a Deaf investigator in the Washington, D.C. area and are arranging an introduction.

"We're trying to pair them," Reid said. "We try to keep exposing our students to Deaf leaders in the community, Deaf people in other jobs so they can learn about the experience. What got them into the career? What have they learned?"

Part of the reason for the school's close involvement, Reid said, is that it's common for parents of Deaf children to have difficulty communicating about issues like career development. Because if a parent's first language is English or Spanish, and their child's first language is ASL, there's a huge communication gap. Sequoia Deaf School is the bridge for that gap. And, thanks to advancements in technology and the changing ways we communicate at work, Deaf students are learning that they can succeed in a variety of fields.

"The reality is their parents don't know the language fluently enough to have those kinds of conversations at home," Reid said. "We have to extend beyond just teaching reading, writing and math. We have to help them see that, yes, things will be different for them. But it's all in your outlook. If you can explain your hearing loss and explain the accommodations you need, then you can teach people how to work with you. You can be successful."

For parents of young Deaf children, Reid recommends scheduling a visit with the school to see the community first-hand.

"Come for a day, come for a visit. Bring your child," she said. "Come and see what our school looks like. Spend time with our teachers. Come get to know us."

Reid said that becoming a part of the Deaf community is critical for not just children, but also their parents. Working with a pre-school program, learning to sign, and meeting other families with Deaf children are important steps.

"Get connected," she said. "Get connected with a Deaf adult. Find a good mentor who you can ask questions and get support from. We don't use the term 'hearing impaired' because we don't see these children as impaired in any way. They aren't impaired. They use a different language. With all the opportunities in this world, there's nothing that's going to hold them back."

For more information on Sequoia Deaf School, visit SequoiaDeafSchool.org.

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