:: Deaf Students Find Opportunities in Lomira Schools ::

Deaf Students Find Opportunities in Lomira Schools:

Beechwood’s Zack Wilson, 19, who is deaf, gets signs from his interpreter at Lomira High School. Wilson commutes from Kewaskum to take classes at Lomira, which is one of the few schools in the state to have a Deaf and Hard of Hearing program. Seven deaf students attend the program’s elementary, middle and high school programs. The Reporter photo by Patrick Flood

The Reporter cmunoz@fdlreporter.com

Speaking with hand gestures is nothing new.

Most people use some form of animated lingo on a daily basis.

A simple sleight of hand can stop traffic, a thumbs up can signal a ‘good job,’ a single inappropriate finger can trigger a bar brawl. It’s as routine as waving hello.

But for seven students in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing program at Lomira High School, creative sign language is a way of life.

Lomira seniors Jerod Splan and Zack Wilson use American Sign Language (ASL) or Pigeon Signed English on a daily basis to communicate with their teachers through an interpreter.

They carry notebooks to write messages to people who don’t know how to sign.

Jerod is from Lomira, but Zack travels from Beechwood near Kewaskum to attend Lomira High School’s specialized program.

DHH is offered through Cooperative Educational Services Agency 6 of Oshkosh and serves about 100 deaf students in the Lomira area.

‘It’s just been wonderful for deaf students,’ said Jeanette Calarco, who aids hearing-impaired students with English. ‘Lomira has always been kind of the forerunner (for deaf education). Their programs are pretty far along in their technology.

‘Having the program here, we’ve got an advantage.’

Close to home

Zack could attend a specialized school for the deaf in Delavan (Wisconsin School for the Deaf), but he said he doesn’t want to move far away from his support group ‘ parents and friends.

‘I refuse to go there because you’re not going to have good communication with your parents,’ Zack said through an interpreter. ‘I would like to have my parents in my life. I think it’d be better to be here to have my parents encourage me to get a better education.’

Zack wants to be a carpenter and works at a cheese factory.

Jerod also prefers Lomira, where he is on the wrestling team and plans to participate in track and field in the spring. He recently won the Wisconsin Flyway Conference wrestling title at 140 pounds.

‘I feel almost the same as any hearing person competing,’ Jerod signed to Calarco.

Calarco and Deb Boness both specialize in teaching hearing-impaired students in the Lomira School District. Helen Dehnel and Dawn Heitman are both interpreters at the elementary, middle and high schools.

Calarco, who teaches English in the DHH room, said she understands that not every word can be conveyed through hand gestures.

‘Even sign language in itself doesn’t always follow the same English word order,’ she said. ‘ASL (American Sign Language) isn’t a written language. Our students, when they are (signing) ASL, English is their second language, not their first. In some ways, they have a barrier.’

Zack explained his frustration with the English language using ‘Jesus freak’ as an example.

‘The other day, we were talking about the word ‘freak,’ he signed to Dehnel. ‘I thought, ‘That’s just a negative, awful thing.

‘Someone said they were a ‘Jesus freak,’ and that just doesn’t seem respectful to Jesus.’

Zack shook his head when his teacher explained it was simply a person devoted to Jesus.

Brave new world

Sign language has singular meanings, and reading comprehension is a difficult challenge for deaf students.

Technology has made it easier for them.

Lomira is equipped with computers and teletypewriters for telecommunication. A new videophone was also given to the school to simplify phone use.

Jerod can dial in to an interpreter who can see him and translate his sign language to a voice conversation to whomever he calls.

‘I really enjoy using it,’ Jerod signed. ‘It’s easy to talk on the video phone versus the teletypewriter. You’re actually conversing with someone.’

Splan has the service at home, which requires a high-speed Internet connection. It is distributed free to deaf people through Sorenson Communications.

Jerod and Zack both have cellular phones equipped with text messaging that has made talking easier.

Lomira schools are well versed in deaf education, not only for their deaf students, but hearing students as well. All seventh-graders take a sign language class as part of their normal course schedule.

The language program has helped hearing students understand their deaf classmates’ obstacles and made it easy to accept them.

It’s also helped teachers integrate them into classroom conversation, though interpreters usually accompany deaf students.

Other items, like flashing lights that visibly mark the end of a class period, also take a little stress off Lomira’s hearing-impaired students.

The DHH program is enthusiastically supported by the community, which remains involved through donations and auctions used to raise money.

‘Lomira is a wonderful community,’ Calarco said. ‘A lot of businesses support us. We’ve done an auction and the kids go around to get donations. It’s nice to see the faces in the businesses communicating with our kids.

‘Lomira is a very friendly place (for the hearing impaired). These teachers have been through this and have (deaf students) over and over again.’



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