Archive for Sunday, September 25, 2011

Kansas School for the Deaf turns 150 this month

September 25, 2011


The Kansas School for the Deaf: Breaking the Isolation

Students and teachers at the Kansas School for the Deaf in Olathe talk about the important role the school has played in fostering a sense of belonging for many in the deaf community. Enlarge video

Sixth-grader Raul Melgar signs the word for "cool" as he, Esther Biser, left, fourth grade, and Carl Labine, sixth grade, have a laugh while trading stories on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011, at the Kansas School for the Deaf in Olathe. The school, which is open to state residents ages 3-21, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this month.

Sixth-grader Raul Melgar signs the word for "cool" as he, Esther Biser, left, fourth grade, and Carl Labine, sixth grade, have a laugh while trading stories on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011, at the Kansas School for the Deaf in Olathe. The school, which is open to state residents ages 3-21, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this month.

About the school

• In 1861, the school began in a small building in Baldwin City.

• It moved to its current location in Olathe in 1866.

• Until 1902, the school was named the Kansas Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb.

• More than 4,000 students have been enrolled in the school, and the current population is about 150.

• The school is part of the state education system and is available to the hearing-impaired, ages 3 to 21.

• It offers a wide variety of extracurricular activities and sports and has an eight-player high school football team.

• The school is celebrating its 150th anniversary this month.

— Information is from “Kansas School for the Deaf: A Pictorial history, 1861-2011,” available at the Deaf Cultural Center, 455 E. Park St., Olathe, for $65.

To a person who hears, lunchtime at this particular school can be a jarring and confusing sight. Hands aflutter, kids laughing, the clanging of chairs and the squeaking of floors.

Heads quickly scan the room, looking to see if they missed part of a funny comment or are being left out of a story.

But nary a word.

Have a camera, and curiosity soars. But the students approach with caution. There’s an awkward moment when a student realizes a hearing person doesn’t speak their language. And for a hearing person, you can’t help but feel left out of all the fun.

A brave 4-year-old approaches.

Tiny fingers move and the girl is telling you her age.

“I’m four,” she says, in sign language.

The cookie she’s munching on?

“It’s chocolate chip,” she says and now bored, she turns around, munching and signing, talking to her friends.

The scene isn’t much different from an encounter with a 4-year-old at another school. Curiosity, a short attention span and having lunch with friends. Just no words.

This is the Kansas School for the Deaf, which this month celebrates its 150th anniversary. Through the years, thousands of students have passed through the school, learned a new language, moved on to careers and created a “deaf-friendly” culture in Olathe.

About the school

Seventh-grader Cameron Symansky, 12, plays football, basketball, hunts and is a Boy Scout.

The Kansas School for the Deaf offers a variety of sports and extracurricular options, and if something isn’t offered at the school, students simply hop over to one of the local schools to join in.

“There’s a lot of activities,” said Cameron, using sign language, interpreted for the Journal-World.

Just more evidence to help fight the occasional stereotypes the deaf students at the school encounter.

“It can be frustrating sometimes with a hearing person because they think that we’re limited,” he said.

About half the roughly 150 students live near the school — which is part of the state’s public school system and is available to any deaf student in Kansas — and attend during the day, like Cameron. The other half live farther away from the school and stay in dorms on site during the week.

Cameron, originally from South Korea, was adopted when he was 3 and started in the preschool program. Cameron had an early leg up on education, which is key, said Luanne Barron, the school’s assistant superintendent. Students can attend as early as age 3 and stay until they’re 21. Barron encourages students to enroll at the school as soon as possible because in many smaller Kansas towns, there just aren’t enough services for deaf students.

“In some rural areas, there may not be an interpreter all,” Barron said.

Like some of the other students, Cameron tried the public school system. He said it was a good learning experience, but communicating with other students was always an issue.

“It was really difficult to make friends,” Cameron said. “I wanted to stay in the public school, but communication was really difficult.”

But here at the school for the deaf, Cameron has the opportunity to make friends who speak his language.

His experiences have been so positive that one of his possible career choices would be coming back to the school, which students and staff simply call KSD, after college to be a counselor.

“KSD is very important to me,” he said.

Two languages

Barron emphasizes that the school is a bilingual school, where students learn English and American Sign Language.

“They’re two completely different languages,” she said. In addition to other state certification requirements, teachers at the school must also be certified in American Sign Language. The staff has both deaf and hearing faculty, Barron said.

Classes are designed to give both languages equal weight, and that’s on full display in teacher Daniel Allen’s sixth-grade classroom for story time.

During the week, the students were studying Roald Dahl’s “James and the Giant Peach.”

As opposed to simply reading the story, Allen and the class also sign the words.

The students giggle throughout Allen’s signing of the story, as he exaggerates the signs and adds in his own humorous facial expressions.

“It’s one of my favorite things to do with my class,” Allen said. “I love it.”

The performance aspect of story time embraced by Allen is key, he said, because it helps students connect the written word to the gestures and signing.

“It’s a visual language,” Allen said.

The visual aspect is a point emphasized by teachers and by the decoration of the school. At every corner of the several buildings on the campus, students are met with bright colors, murals and “deaf-visual” art, which is a combination of artwork and signing. Lining the school library are portraits with a visual element, such as a house with hands signing “home.”

‘Typical’ experiences

And deaf families from all over the country make Olathe their home, in large part because of the reputation of the school and the city.

High school student Briella Diaz, 15, moved with her parents and siblings — all of whom are deaf — last year from Utah, after having trouble with services for the deaf in that state.

“We knew there was a large deaf community here,” Briella said. “Everything’s ready to go here.”

Briella talks in glowing terms of the community surrounding the school. Go into a store or restaurant, and you’re bound to run into another deaf person, she said. Police carry notebooks and are ready to write notes to residents during interactions, and businesses seem ready and willing to assist deaf customers.

“There’s caption televisions everywhere,” Briella said. Supporting the deaf “is like the law here.”

But occasionally, Briella said, she and her friends encounter someone not quite comfortable with a deaf person.

“Some hearing people just back off,” she said. But that provides an opportunity. “It’s important to educate them.”

When asked about what her life is like and what she likes to do, Briella uses the word “typical” a lot.

She plays volleyball, competes on the academic bowl team, hangs out with friends and plans to go to college at Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf in Washington, D.C., that’s a popular college choice for the school’s students.

Briella laughs when asked if there’s the typical gossip about boyfriends and girlfriends among the students.

“Oh yeah, it’s real-life drama here,” she said.

Ask Briella what it’s like being deaf, or going to a deaf school, and she just shrugs. They’re questions she’s been asked before, and she just doesn’t have any huge revelations about her experiences.

“We just have a different language, that’s all,” she said.


Bob Harvey 5 years, 10 months ago

Bravo to the Jackrabbits on their 150 year celebration. I am not sure that folks from around here know what a treasure we have by having KSD in Olathe. Now on to another 150.

FlintlockRifle 5 years, 10 months ago

I have been there several times in my life time for different events. My mothers uncle was a great baseball pitcher for the Giants back in the eariy 1900's, and this is where he went to school, in fact the gym is named after him,his name was Luther Taylor , but his nickname was ""Dummy Taylor" He is buried down in Baldwin City , Kansas.

CreatureComforts 5 years, 10 months ago

Three posts for an idiot to chime in to a great, uplifting story and spew political junk...bravo.

funkdog1 5 years, 10 months ago

Yeah, the school is 150 years old. Bravo. My cousin attended the Kansas School for the Blind. They taught her braille in her 50s when she went blind. And now Brownback and his cronies have plans to shut both down. It's a perfectly appropriate comment. Now go back to sipping your lemonade and skipping through the sunflowers with your head up your backside.

Oldsoul 5 years, 10 months ago

Deaf culture is on the cutting-edge of disability culture. They rightly insist they should not be judged and limited by societal norms of physical ability. They reject that kind of offensive intrusion and "help."

David Klamet 5 years, 10 months ago

I attended Linwood Junior HIgh and High School (before it was consolidated with Basehor).

We often played KSD in junior high and high school sports. I remember the differences: how they did the snap count in football, the way the cheerleaders led cheers in basketball.

It was different and, I like to think, gave me a new perspective on a different world than the simple one I was familiar with.

KEITHMILES05 5 years, 10 months ago

The deaf culture is a very proud people and close community. Many are embracing modern technology such as cochlear implants to further their lives and to bring hearing to a new level.

chootspa 5 years, 10 months ago

Are you deaf? Forgive me if you are, because I am not, and I just speak from my experience with my friends in the deaf community. Most of the time cochlear implants are a decision made by a hearing parent for a very young child. Although things have settled down since the implants were introduced (See "The Sound and the Fury") it's not a decision without controversy, especially since many implanted children are encouraged NOT to learn sign language.

AlligatorMama 5 years, 10 months ago

I'm sorry but most Deaf people aren't interested in a cochlear implant, and those that are interested it's a personal choice. Majority of Chochlear Implants come from hearing parents who know nothing about deafness/culture/American Sign Language and want to "fix" what they think is broken by making their child as close to hearing as possible. Very rarely will you ever find a deaf person having a cochlear implant done on their's almost always hearing parents making this choice. The community in general look down on the implant as something that isn't needed for their culture because they don't feel that there is anything that needs to be is who they are and they are happy with it. I can't speak for everyone, but most of the deaf/hard of hearing people I know in Olathe feel this way.

KEITHMILES05 5 years, 10 months ago

No, I am not deaf but have a family member who is. She lost her hearing at a young age and YES, we made the decision through much counseling and soul searching for a cochlear implant. She was taught sign language at a very, very young age and is extremely fluent in it. The CI opened doors for her that would never have been allowed if she didn't have it. Of course it is a personal choice and why not? That is a lame excuse to be given and has nothing to do with anything! My daughter is very much in the deaf community and yes, the CI is looked down upon in general. However, over the past few years she knows a number of people who have received it and these are people who are adults and nothing was forced on them. It continues to be an option for hearing impaired people and rightfully so.

Lawrence Morgan 5 years, 10 months ago

Please see my comment under "videos". As I said there, games are a very good choice. There are all kinds of games- especially from Europe, that teach many things and are great fun for all of your lives, not just when you are young.

But I would like to hear more about their curriculum, what they actually teach.

And how about the internet? How do they caution kids about things that they really shouldn't be looking at?

It's a great article.

chootspa 5 years, 10 months ago

How do you caution your kids about what they really shouldn't be looking at? I would imagine it's done the same way.

AlligatorMama 5 years, 10 months ago

The kids living in the dorms are monitored 24/7 on pretty much everything going they are probably more aware of bad things on the internet than most hearing kids living at home with their parents. Nothing is different...the only difference is that they can't hear and they use a different language. They teach kids the same way we teach our kids - but they do it in ASL instead of English. Curriculum is similar to that of a public school, but again, done in an ASL friendly way. They take all of the same classes (math, science, english, art, PE etc). It's really not all that different....there isn't anything wrong with their brains, they simply can't hear.

nibs 5 years, 10 months ago

I have always been intrigued with ASL growing up but never knew anyone that signed. Later in life, I actually got a job as a Relay Operator. I LOVED that job. Always learning new things, and being able to educate hearing people with what I knew. I am a hearing person, but learned really fast the difference between hearing and listening. Most hearing people hear what is being said but they don't listen to what is being said. It has definatly openend my eyes and ears to a beautiful language and culture. GO JACKRABBITS!!!!!

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