Editors Note: This is part one of a two-part report about the Solano County Office of Education’s Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Program. The second part will publish Dec. 23.
FAIRFIELD — There was a time not too long ago when Vicky Del Real was embarrassed to let anyone know she was hard of hearing.
The 16-year-old said she’d never wear her long black hair in a pony tail because didn’t want people to see her hearing aids.
“I would always have my hair down,” she said.
That was when she was at Green Valley Middle School, but since then she said her mother talked to her about being open and showing people her true self. She’s embraced her lack of hearing since moving into high school.
Del Real is in a regionalized program for the deaf and hard of hearing belonging to the Solano County Office of Education. It’s hosted at Rodriguez High School, Green Valley Middle School and Cordelia Hills Elementary School – depending upon the child’s grade level. In addition to specialized education, the program allows children to learn from each other’s experiences, reduces isolation from being the only deaf child in the school and gives them the opportunity to have centralized deaf and hard-of-hearing staff available.
There are 11 students at Rodriguez, including Del Real. They come from a variety of locations – this year from Solano, Contra Costa, Yolo and Napa counties. Del Real is from Fairfield and lives in the Fairfield High School area but is bused – as are the other students – to the program at Rodriguez.
The students attend the program if their individualized education plans require instruction from a certified deaf education teacher and/or sign language interpretation. There are four interpreters and two full-time teachers at Rodriguez – Katherine Reyes and Tara Piediscalzi, who goes by Ms. Pie – in the deaf and hard-of-hearing program.
The students run the range in what they need and their abilities. Some are hard of hearing, some profoundly deaf – as is Reyes – some have cochlear ear implants, others hearing aids. Some know American Sign Language and can also understand the English language, some can’t, or have lower comprehension levels. Some read lips, and again, some don’t. It’s up to Reyes and Piediscalzi to meet the students at their needed level and help teach and guide them not only in the deaf and hard-of-hearing classes but in their mainstream classes as well.
“We have to work from where they are,” Piediscalzi said. “We (then) work to get them where they can go.”
In addition to traditional educational means, Reyes said they use visuals, acting, gesturing and dramatization in classroom teaching. The goal is to get them to grade-level learning.
On a recent Thursday, Reyes was in Jack Marino’s mainstream world civilizations class. Five of the students in the deaf and hard-of-hearing program were also in the class. Reyes sat in the back along with the students, including Del Real, in case they needed help – anything from translation to help with classwork.
Two interpreters – Elizabeth Castro and Pamela Pianfetti – stood in the front of the class and signed as Marino lectured. Castro or Pianfetti each signed for about 20 minutes before alternating. Pianfetti said they don’t worry if the students aren’t watching them sign. They’d rather have them looking at the teacher, if possible.
“If they’re looking away that’s good because it means they’re getting it,” she said. She added that the teacher is the “primary source” and “if they’re getting it from the teacher, that’s the best way.”
Reyes said she knew the required class would be difficult for them. Del Real agreed and added that it’s complicated juggling the necessitated writing and watching. She reads lips and also watches the interpreters in the class – but she needs to take notes at the same time. On Thursday her pen scratched the paper in a fury as she hastily wrote notes while Marino did a PowerPoint presentation.
“I sometimes write the notes fast and then I watch the interpreter,” she said.
Despite world civilizations being a required class for graduation, Reyes said they don’t just put the students in mainstream classes. They will teach the classes themselves, if need be, on the level of understanding needed for the students.
“Next year, two of my deaf students will need to take this class,” Reyes said. “However, they don’t have the language skills for it – it’s way over their comprehension level. Therefore, either Pie or I will need to teach it to them next year. We do not ‘throw’ (deaf and hard-of-hearing) kids into the mainstream.”
She said this is what makes the Solano County Office of Education program unique – she said other programs believe in mainstreaming regardless of language level and if the level is deficient enough, the students are put in “severely handicapped classes where others do not sign.”
“The focus is on functional living skills, not on (American Sign Language) development and they desperately need (sign language development),” she said. “With the Solano County of Education, we don’t do that. If they can succeed in the mainstream, great. If they can’t, great, too, because we can provide the (deaf and hard-of-hearing) instruction that they need.”
The ability to attend deaf and hard-of-hearing classes, such as directed studies and English, helps her, Del Real said. It gives her the extra time to make up work, support for other classes if she needs it and allows her to catch up on parts of lectures she might not have been able to understand.
While many of her deaf and hard-of-hearing peers feel more comfortable talking with Reyes or Piediscalzi, Del Real said now that she’s released her fear and embarrassment, seeking help isn’t hard for her.
“I just ask anyone,” she said, smiling.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.