Letting the deaf know: You’re not alone

Summarized by Rachel Janis, staff writer

Diane Sturgeon doesn’t want her six-year-old son Aiden to feel alone because of his hearing loss.

Aiden will join a half-dozen other deaf or hard of hearing students at Harvey Dunn Elementary as another academic school year begins across Sioux Falls in two weeks.

Once a group-learning option at Hawthorne Elementary, the program is now at Harvey Dunn, mostly because many students with hearing loss happen to live on the east side of the city.

“If children like Aiden don’t have other deaf children to identify with, they can feel isolated. They can feel, ‘I’m alone in this. I’m the only kid that wears hearing aids. I’m the only one who signs,’” Sturgeon reflects. “To be around others like him, that’s huge.”

Seven out of twenty-three students in the district who have hearing loss will attend Harvey Dunn. The rest can decide to stay at their home attendance centers, said Barb Avery-Sterud, Related Services supervisor for the district.

The students who remain in their neighborhood schools are assisted by interpreters who use American Sign Language. They will help tutor and support the students, said Avery-Sterud.

At Harvey Dunn, younger and older students can come together for group language instruction, or math and reading. After, they will return to their classrooms with the assistance of interpreters.

The goal, said Principal Teresa Boysen, is to have the students spend time out of their regular classrooms as little as possible.

“There may be some vocabulary development… or to meet individual needs… that will happen outside the classroom,” said Boysen. “Otherwise, the main instruction will be from the classroom teacher in the classroom, where in that rich environment they can learn from each other.”

In Boysen’s ten years as a principal at Harvey Dunn, there hasn’t really been an established attendance of deaf or hard of hearing students. Boysen sees this new program as a benefit for the rest of the students at Harvey Dunn.

If enough students are interested, the school can maybe offer informal sign language learning during recess, or before or after the school day, Boysen said.

“If there is enough interest, that would be a great benefit for all our students,” she said. “I think kids who want to know sign language are going to be curious, and they’ll pick up on it. If we take a few minutes every day to show them a few signs, they’ll pick up on it.”

The South Dakota School for the Deaf does still provide programming for Aiden and others, but it does not offer regular school days anymore.

Although programs are available in neighboring school districts, Harvey Dunn will help keep options closer to home, Sturgeon said. It gives her son a chance to stay close to neighborhood friends while being around others who sign like him.

This will mean a lot to Aiden, since he doesn’t fully understand the differences between himself and other hearing children, said his mother.

“Aiden is a fairly engaging young man, fairly gregarious and outgoing, a friendly charmer,” said Sturgeon. “The older he gets, the more he’ll start noticing the difference. And the older you get, maybe the more isolated you feel. I don’t know. I just think this program will be good for him, and will take some of the mystique away for everybody.” 

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