Saturday, May 3, 2003

Students go deaf for a school day

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

SHARONVILLE - Each time the school bell rang Friday, Jessie Meyer had no idea what was happening.

[IMAGE] Princeton High student Julietta Ladipo, 17, of Sharonville, takes part in the fund-raiser Friday.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
"Everyone is moving, and you don't know why," said the Princeton High School sophomore. "It's like, 'What's going on?' "

Meyer was one of 55 students participating in the American Sign Language club's Deaf-A-Thon. Through sponsorships, the event raised money for a scholarship and a summer camp, while allowing students to experience "deafness" for a day.

Promptly at 7:15 a.m. participating students inserted foamy green plugs into their ears, then placed cushioned headphones on top. They also took a vow of silence, swearing to communicate only through sign language or pen and pencil.

Headphones and earplugs could not be removed until 2:15 p.m.

It made government class difficult, said senior Betsy Holley, as she struggled to follow the movie Thirteen Days. Even though her teacher turned on the closed-captioning service for Holley, the words and action were too quick.

"I would get confused and try to start reading the captions again, but then they'd move on to something else," she said. "It was really hard."

It also made history class tough for Meyer.

"The teacher pretty much did lectures and notes and stuff the whole period," she said. "Of course I couldn't hear her, so I had to rely on other people to take notes for me."

Teachers were under strict orders to proceed with class as usual, and the "deaf" students were responsible for completing all their normal classwork. The students also wrote journal entries about their experiences, which counted as extra credit.

Many of the other students were perplexed by the project.

"They would yell, 'Can you hear me?' and get in my face," Meyer said. "A lot of people think deaf people can talk or read lips, but that's not necessarily so."

However, a portion of the student body knows some American Sign Language, which is taught as a foreign language at Princeton. Some of those students have had prior experiences with the headphones, but only for stints of 30 to 40 minutes.

"This is a reality check for them - seven hours without hearing is a long time," said ASL teacher Sean Garner. "It's a difficult thing I'm asking them to do."

This is the first such event at Princeton High School. Garner has made similar efforts at other schools, such as a day to teach students what it is like to be physically challenged.

"The students were supposed to use wheelchairs all day, but nobody lasted the whole time," he said. "Here, the students are doing better than I thought they would."

Lunch was held in the sign language room.

"It was like, 'Yes! We can use our hands to talk to people who understand!' " Meyer said. "It was such a relief."

The students walked away with a better understanding of what it's like to be deaf in a hearing world.

"It's really hard to walk down the hall at school and see people you know and not be able to communicate with them," Holley said. "Writing back and forth, you can't get out exactly what you were thinking. They get frustrated, and you get frustrated."

Students had sponsors for the event, raising about $450 total. The ASL club does other fund-raisers throughout the year.

Proceeds will go to the Cassie Conrad/Jessica Carson American Sign Language Scholarship, a $500 award named for two Princeton students killed in a car accident in November 2002.

Additional money will offset the costs of a Tristate-area summer camp for deaf children and the children of deaf adults.


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