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Sign of Success Washougal High sign-language instructor Tami Grant is district’s nominee for 2020 ‘teacher of the year’

Tami Grant, the Washougal School District’s nominee for the 2020 Washington “teacher of the year” award, has worked as a sign language interpreter for Vancouver-based Sorenson Communications for the past 10 years and has taught American Sign Language (ASL) at Washougal High School for the past 12 years, but her connection to the deaf culture and community goes back much further.

About 30 years ago, Grant’s sister married a man who was, at the time, hard of hearing and is now completely deaf. One year later, Grant’s oldest daughter, Ashli-Marie, then 2 years old, was diagnosed with deafness. One night, about 15 years later, Grant’s ex-husband Kevin went to bed with perfect hearing and woke up the next morning unable to hear, the victim of sudden neural hearing loss.

And about a year-and-a-half ago, Kayla Ritchey, Grant’s younger daughter, discovered her newborn son, Carson, was deaf.

After Carson’s birth, testing confirmed that Waardenburg syndrome type 2, a genetic condition characterized by varying degrees of deafness and pigmentation abnormalities of the eyes, hair or skin, runs in the family.

Grant acknowledges there have been some struggles along the way, but she views her dealings with deafness as “one of the biggest blessings that’s ever happened to (her) family.”

“I found out there’s a whole new language and a culture that I didn’t even know about,” she said. “There (are) so many people that I wouldn’t have met, so many things I wouldn’t have experienced had I not learned about deafness, had we not had deafness in our family.”

Those experiences have informed her approach to teaching in a profound way.

“I tell the kids this all the time – you have to go through a grieving process,” Grant said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh my gosh, deafness is this horrible, terrible thing.’ You have a picture of what life is going to be like, and then it changes, (and that) picture is gone and now you have to figure out what life is going to be like. You’re grieving the loss of that picture, that plan.”

Her approach appears to be working. The Washougal School District announced at its board of directors meeting on April 23 that Grant is the district’s nominee for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction 2020 Teacher of the Year award.

“What I see Tami doing on a regular basis is providing our students with a safe, supportive environment where they can explore their talents and their skills,” said Washougal High principal Aaron Hansen. “She’s relationship-focused, and that means so much to our students. She connects with them. She asks how they’re doing. She wants to know where they want to go and she helps them get there.”

Grant is the director of Washougal High’s Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, serves on the school’s culture and climate team and helps lead the district’s career technical education professional learning committee.

“The leadership that she provides the other adults in our building is priceless,” said Sheree Clark, Washougal High’s associate principal. “She influences our teachers to push past their comfort zone. That’s huge. A lot of the credit that we’ve made as a team is (due) to Tami.”

A ‘welcoming environment’

The ASL program is truly a family affair at Washougal High.

Ashli-Marie Grant, who works as an executive secretary for the Utah School for the Deaf and Sorenson Communications as interpreter scheduler in Salt Lake City, periodically visits her mother’s classroom via video call to answer student questions.

Two years ago, when school district leaders determined the high school needed a second ASL teacher to keep up with demand, they hired Ritchey, who had been working for the district as an interpreter.

“From a young age, I wanted to be a teacher, but never anything to do with ASL. Actually, I was kind of resistant against ASL,” Ritchey said. “I didn’t want to be identified as the person who knew sign language. My mom helped me understand that it is OK for that to be a part of me. It’s what makes me unique and special. It’s a skill that can help people. She inspired me to start working with high school kids, and I love it.”

Every so often, Ritchey brings Carson into her classroom, where the toddler is popular with students, including senior Dylan Van Horn, who has joked that he’s going to be Carson’s interpreter when the boy gets older.

Van Horn has been inspired by Grant’s tutelage. When he first enrolled in her class as a sophomore, he viewed ASL as not much more than a means to an end in terms of obtaining a needed language credit.

Now, he’s planning to attend Western Oregon University to study ASL and English interpreting and hopes to work as an interpreter.

“(Grant) provides a welcoming environment,” said Van Horn, who translated the entire score to the musical “Mama Mia” with Grant’s help for his senior project. “You have more of a personal relationship with her; she’s more like a mom than a teacher. Kids who are struggling, she gives them a chance. Kids that are feeling alone, she gives them a reason to come to school.”

Throughout the school year, the ASL classes produce and perform interpretive shows in front of the entire student body — a daunting task for some of the more introverted students.

But Grant helps them through the process by encouraging them to “come out of their shell,” something she said she has done herself during the past 12 years.

“My whole philosophy is I need these kids to feel safe to try new things,” Grant said. “I have to make it a safe place because I’m asking them to do something that’s out of their comfort zone. My biggest philosophy is trying to reach them as individuals, to help them get a respect for what it is that I’m trying to teach them about the culture.”

She also has a few personal motivations.

“Honestly, I want to make sure the next generation is learning to sign,” said Grant, whose son Matthieu is endorsed in ASL and works for Disney in Florida. “Clearly it’s not stopping here in my family. My grandson lives in this district. He’s going to be going to school here someday. I would like him to have peers who know how to sign and understand that he’s coming from a different culture and has different norms.”

When Grant was a child, she moved with her mother 27 times, from Bellingham in northern Washington to Vancouver and to several points in between. She attended 13 schools, including five high schools, before graduating from Washougal High School.

“She had a really rough life growing up,” Ritchey said. “She’s had to survive on what she’s been given.”

She’s also earned a lot of things along the way — respect from her students and peers, for example.

At the end of the 2017-18 school year, Grant’s students presented her with a signed picture frame. One student wrote, “If it wasn’t for you, I would’ve dropped out of school a long time ago.”

“At the end of the day,” Grant said, “what matters is the students knew they were important. They knew that I believed in them. They knew they could keep going on and things were going to get better. They’re going to grow up to be good people because of what they learned here. In a world with so much chaos, we need the good people.”

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Bill could change School for the Deaf oversight

Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf Advisory Council Chairman Hal Wright, left, Vice Chairman Gary Farmer and Director Michele Handley use sign language while describing their concerns with a bill to change the oversight for the state's schools for deaf and blind students.

The Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf Advisory Board agreed Wednesday to write letters to state education officials and legislators voicing concerns over a bill that could drastically change the way the 55-year-old institution is funded and controlled.

House Bill 932, Residential School Administration, is co-sponsored by Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, home of the North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton, and Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson, home of the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf.

ENCSD Director Michele Handley said the bill would create three 11-member boards of trustees that would govern both schools for the deaf and the Governor Morehead School for the Blind, one for each school.

Handley said she first heard of the bill when Farmer-Butterfield called her at 2 p.m. April 17.

“She said she had just received it from Rep. Blackwell and the submission deadline was 3 p.m. and she needed my feedback,” Handley said. “So I did my best to look at it and process and provide her with some meaningful feedback. Essentially what I said to her was I appreciated the General Assembly tending to us and paying attention to us in that way and just requested the opportunity to flesh the bill out a little more before anything became official.”

The bill passed an April 22 first reading in the House and was referred to the appropriations committee.

According to the bill, the boards of trustees would consist of four members appointed by the state House speaker, four members chosen by the Senate president pro-tem, two members selected by the governor and one member picked by the State Board of Education chair.

The bill would provide $1.5 million in recurring funds to be allocated to the schools to cover administrative functions. The Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf would receive a third of that, or $500,000.

Chairman Hal Wright, who is deaf, said the lack of input from the deaf community is a large concern for him.

“There is no wording involving the deaf community. Nothing in this bill says anything about the deaf community. That kills me. There is nothing,” Wright said. “We are talking about the deaf community, but where is the input from them? They are the best spokespeople. We have the experience. We’re deaf. That would be the best. We need more involvement.”

Vice Chairman Gary Farmer said he’d read the bill and was appreciative that the legislature was “thinking about us.”

“I thank them for that, but — and this is a big but — the brain trust here, the advisory council, knew nothing about it,” Farmer said. “You were contacted last-minute. You didn’t really have an opportunity to bring it to us. They want to do away with us as an advisory board.”

Farmer expressed concern that the 11 trustees who are going to make decisions may not know anything about deafness or blindness. He was also concerned that the trustees would be treated like a local educational agency.

“That means these 11 people will run the school basically, hire and fire at the recommendation of the superintendent,” Farmer said.

Wright asked why there 11 board members at each school.

“Why? That’s too many. There are three schools. They could start fighting against each other. The thing is maybe they won’t work together. Maybe they will oppose each other,” Wright said. “I personally prefer one board, not three and the board itself is an LEA for all schools and automatically becomes an LEA for all schools and I prefer it that way so we can make sure that each team would work together, the west and the east and not a division of three schools and have three boards We will never win.”

Wright also had concerns over the money and the budget because the bill is unclear.

“Does the board make those decisions? Who makes those decisions?” Wright asked. “We will follow the law, yes, but there are some questions I would like to have answered before I say yes to this or no.”

Advisory council member Rob Boyette said legislators needed to give the current advisory boards time to digest the bill and look at it in more detail.

“There are some serious questions. No. 1 is truly the power it talks about in here invested in this board,” Boyette said. “This board has the ability to sell this property. This board has the ability to disband this school.”

Boyette said the current board has serious legal issues to consider.

“The funding is not spelled out very well at all and the funding mentioned is woefully inadequate to operate this school for any period of time and teach kids and that is a critical part to add,” Boyette said. “You can operate this school on $500,000, but would you properly train and educate students like they need to be? There has always been some element of local involvement, some opportunity for people in our communities be it in Morganton, be it here, be it in Raleigh, to have some involvement, some opportunity to be a part of what’s going on. That is not a part of this trustee board as currently designed.”

Handley said she had a range of concerns. She said the school would not be able to comply with the requirements set out in the bill as written, like providing a bus stop for every child.

“That’s untenable for us,” Handley said. “We serve 54 counties.”

Handley has concerns that each board would be empowered to develop eligibility criteria for the school.

“Right now our model is equal programs. We have divided the state in half because in theory the programs are equal,” Handley said. “That is out the window and you could potentially find that there is competition. A child could be eligible for one school and not eligible for the other. That’s a problem. We don’t need to be in competition for one another.”

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Unsure How To Communicate With Deaf People? Here’s Some Advice

Unsure How To Communicate With Deaf People? Here's Some

Imagine if you were with a group of friends and one of them said something funny, which you didn’t quite catch. Now imagine, while everyone else is laughing, you ask them to repeat it, only to be met with the response “oh, it doesn’t matter.” What if this happened to you again and again, in lots of different situations? For many deaf people, this is far from hypothetical; it’s real life.

As part of Deaf Awareness Week 2019, we’re launching the results of our new survey, which reveals that more than half of British adults don’t feel confident talking to deaf people. One in five have been nervous when speaking to a deaf person, simply because they didn’t know what to do.

That’s not all. Aside from a hesitation to talk to deaf people, it seems the nation also isn’t sure what deafness really is. There are 11million deaf people in the UK, equivalent to one in six adults, yet 70% of our survey respondents said they didn’t know anyone who was deaf.

One in three weren’t sure if deaf people could detect sound without hearing technology – the vast majority can. A third also revealed that they’ve slowed down their speech for a deaf person. Unfortunately, this only really serves to make lip-reading much more difficult.

I am reminded of my own childhood as a deaf person and an old family friend who, in his well-meaning way, used to over-enunciate every single word to me thinking it would make conversation easier. It didn’t, and I was too embarrassed to tell him. He’d have been mortified if he’d known.

In my student days, I went so many parties where dimly-lit conditions made it nigh-on impossible for me to lip-read. People’s solution was to lean in and shout or endlessly repeat things, when all that’s needed is a slight rephrasing. Every deaf person has had experiences like these and it can mean you miss out on much of what happens around you.

At the National Deaf Children’s Society, we’re only too aware of the feelings of isolation and loneliness that deaf people can experience. It’s even harder for children to deal with. We often hear about deaf children standing alone in the playground, missing out on games and classroom chatter and not being invited to birthday parties. The saddest part is that with a little bit of effort and a small amount of deaf awareness, it can so easily be avoided.

The last thing we want is for hearing people to feel guilty. But we do want everyone to engage with deaf people of all ages, particularly children, and to feel confident and relaxed when they do.

To help with this, we’ve published our top five tips for talking to deaf children. They’re really simply things and if everyone picked up even a couple of them, become a little more deaf aware and made a bit of extra effort, it really would make a huge difference to the lives of the UK’s 50,000 deaf children.

Children just want to chatter, play games and be included in the fun and games happening around them. Deaf children are, of course, no exception.

So here are our five top tips for talking to a deaf child:

1. Every deaf child will have a preferred method, so find out if they use speech, British Sign Language or a mixture of both.

2. Speak clearly and naturally. Deaf children will try to lip-read, so speak as you normally would. Speaking slowly or too loudly makes lip-reading much more difficult.

3. Make sure they can see your mouth. Covering your mouth with your hands, eating or chewing can make lip-reading very difficult. It also muffles any sound you’re making.

4. Use visual cues where possible. Point to what you’re talking about, and don’t be shy about using gestures to support your communication.

5. Don’t give up and never say “I’ll tell you later”. Deaf children want to be involved just like their friends, so if one method doesn’t work, don’t be scared to improvise, such as typing things on your phone or writing on pieces of paper.

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Can Deaf Dogs Learn Sign Language?

Dog Deaf 1

Teaching your dog new tricks and obedience takes time and patience. But what if your dog has a disability like being deaf? Are they still able to learn tricks or even respond to you? The quick answer is yes!

However, it takes a bit more patience and understanding when it comes to training dogs who are deaf or hearing impaired. One of the best ways to teach deaf dogs is through sign language.

When it comes to training a hearing dog, you’re able to use verbal commands and visual cues. When it comes to deaf or hearing-impaired dogs, you can use hand signs to replace the verbal aspects of communication.

Here’s what you should know about deaf dogs and sign language.

The History Of Sign Language And Dogs

American Sign Language has been around since 1817 and has usually been the most common form of sign language to be used when communicating and teaching deaf dogs to respond.

Sean Senechal, an accomplished applied behavioral analyst and animal language researcher, founded AnimalSign Center to research, practice, and enhance language development and visible communication between animals and people.

Senechal states that dogs can communicate with human in many ways, and she worked to develop a better “language” to do that. This specific language is also easily learned by both humans and dogs and is called K9Sign.

This form of sign language can teach your pup to ask for food and water among other things through signals they can learn. In fact, this form of sign language was so effective, a dog was able to communicate when it was in pain.

Senechal said she taught Chal, a German Shepherd, K9Sign since she was one year old. Sean noticed Chal limping on her right hind leg. Unable to find the root source of Chal’s pain, Senechal decided to sign her, “Where’s your ouch?”

Incredibly, Chal was able to reply in sign, “here,” and pointed to her right lower nipple area. Chal tapped the area and looked back up at Sean who checked the area. Sean then noticed a small red bump by her nipple, which turned out to be cancer.

Without the ability to communicate through K9Sign, Sean would not have been able to pinpoint the location of Chal’s pain.

Dog Deaf 2

Findings show that deaf dogs have responded quite well to hand signals and physical cues. This is due not only to dogs being naturally smart creatures, but also because they are excellent at reading human body language.

Whether you have a deaf dog or a hearing one, many now believe that body language and hand signals are better forms of communication than verbal commands.

In an Italian study headed by Biagio D’Aniello of the Department of Biology at the University of Naples, researchers tried to address whether hand signals were more effective than verbal commands.

The study, which involved 25 dogs, used verbal commands versus hand signals, and even a combination of both to see which form of communication was more effective. The results showed that dogs responded 99 percent correctly to sign language from their respective owners.

With this information, we are able to assert that not only can deaf dogs learn sign language, but hearing dogs, as well. And hopefully this can serve as a reminder that no matter what disability a dog might have, with love and support, they overcome their issues, and they can flourish, too.

Do you think deaf dogs can learn sign language? Do you think even dogs who can hear would be better off knowing how to communicate this way? Let us know in the comments below!