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A first in R.I.: Counselor of the year is deaf | Video

PROVIDENCE — Every morning as students arrive, Joseph Batiano stands at his office door, hoping to greet each one.

The school has 85 students, from 3 to 21 years old. Batiano, 44, of Warwick, is the school counselor for all of them. If he can’t exchange a few words with each student as they pass his door, he will note any sign that suggests he should seek them out later. Sometimes the sign is a gesture that means “I need to talk.”

He has an open-door policy, a bowl of assorted balls on his table, a box of tissues, a shelf of Star Wars action figures with a Wonder Woman action figure reigning over them, a Mr. Potato Head, and inspirational sayings on the walls.

The office is warm and inviting, and the toys are useful for opening conversations. Anyone can take a ball from the bowl, and almost everyone returns it. Sometimes he has to chase one down, but the return offers a second chance at discourse.