Deaf Education Options GuideLearning Environments
Traditionally, residential schools have had a long and venerable history in this country. They are well known for being bastions of Deaf Culture and most deaf kids who attend them eventually learn ASL. Residential school enrollment has decreased due to two major factors. Since mainstreaming became an option for many children, parents began sending their children to local schools. “At the schools for the deaf, everyone is amazed. Mainstreaming caught them completely off-guard. …They never expected to face losing students to the public schools.”113 Also, the population of deaf children has decreased due to vaccinations like the Rubella vaccination. As a result, a number of schools have closed. For the most part, the schools that remain open have opened Day School programs. In addition, many of these schools have needed to take in children with multiple handicaps in order to keep their doors open. “Enrollment showed a slight decline in the seventies…Then suddenly, mainstreaming got serious, and there wasn’t much money…Suddenly, the school began looking for kids in the really closed institutions, like the Rome Developmental Center.”114
There are real advantages to residential schools. The schools are designed with the needs of deaf students in mind. Some of the schools have excellent programs. The opportunity for peer interaction is available, as are extracurricular activities like boy scouts and after school clubs. “ The students are involved in student government, peer study-groups, volunteer activities in the community at large, sports …all kinds of extra-curricular activities.”115 A child who lives in a locality where he is the only deaf person for miles in any direction is able to meet other deaf children. Deaf kids have adult Deaf role models. “Educators and parents who advocate for the availability option point out that the presence of deaf adults who are well-educated and fluent in sign language has a significant long-term impact on young deaf children’s educational and personal well-being.”116 In many cases, friendships are made that last a lifetime. The children are exposed to the cultural values of the Deaf community and to the language of the Deaf, ASL.
There are some real disadvantages as well. Many families are not comfortable sending young children away to school. Some families feel that the home and family is the best environment for any child. ‘I do not recommend for deaf students to stay at residential schools for a number of reasons. These deaf children need to be with their family where there is love, discipline and nurturing. The residential supervisors’ are not capable of meeting every deaf child’s needs (emotionally and physically).117 Many parents feel that the act of sending their child to residential school isolates the child from the family. Finally, there is the issue of the quality of the education itself. Education quality varies from school to school. “One suggestion for finding out if a residential school has a good program [is to] ask around and see how many of the students there have deaf parents. The deaf community is pretty close-knit, and word travels fast on the grapevine. If a certain residential school is significantly good, many deaf families actually uproot and move into that school’s neighborhood. Also, deaf children with deaf parents experience no language barriers at home…and thus many of them have age-appropriate language and communication skills. The schools that these children attend usually have a curriculum which reflects this.”118
There are three oral residential schools in this country: Clarke School, The Central Institute for the Deaf and St. Joseph’s Institute for the Deaf. They serve the oral deaf extremely well. One young lady had this to say: “ I went to the Clarke School for the Deaf for seven years. It was an awesome experience. I learned to be confident and to be a leader at an early age.”119
The Day School placement is one of the best compromises between the residential school and mainstreaming. Children can remain at home and are still able to take advantage of a school that is staffed with people who have the special training needed to educate deaf kids. The same kinds of programs and accommodations found in the residential schools can be found in the Day School placement.
The disadvantage to Day School placement is availability. Day Schools are found as a part of the Residential School programs. They are also found in metropolitan areas. If a parent’s job requires him to move to a remote area, a Day School program may not be an option.
TThese programs tend to the needs of children ranging in age from birth to four years. Public schools, local health and human services departments, residential schools and private organizations can run early intervention programs. Some schools have programs that use the services of itinerant teachers. One professional teacher cautioned parents to realize that teachers who deal with children age birth through three are often have a general special education degree. Parents need to seek out teachers who have a Masters degree in deaf education.
The focus of these programs is, in a word, preparation. Preschool is important because if helps children learn how to function socially and within the family. The preschool program emphasizes the following skills: language development, parent-child communication and social skills. These programs also teach strategies for enhancing the child’s development, signing skills and speech training.120 These communication and coping strategies are important as the children enter kindergarten.
Mainstreaming is a placement option in which children go to regular classes and they also go to some special education classes. These classes are called resource classes and are taught by specially trained teachers. Inclusion is a placement option in which the children are totally involved in all aspects of public education. Partial mainstreaming is a placement option in which children spend a portion of the day at the residential or day school and part of the day in public school.
Mainstreaming and Inclusion are supposed to allow deaf children access to regular education. One common complaint about the Mainstream setting is that the children are only in the regular classrooms for non-core subjects such as Physical Education and Art. The children generally learn their core subjects in the Resource Room. The act of placing a child in a Resource Room for a portion of the day can generate challenges. This dual learning environment can produce similar stigmas to those found in earlier generations when children had to leave the classroom for remedial education. In a dual environment, social integration comes into play. Children that are not a part of the classroom for a significant portion of the day have difficulty becoming integrated with their peers. Academic achievement also seems to be lower. Partial Mainstreaming between two different schools requires commuting time that breaks up the school day. This wastes valuable learning time. Students mainstreamed for 5-10 hours a week do consistently worse than students mainstreamed for 16 hours a week.121 “The key is to identify the right kind of program for the child in the first place and closely monitor academic and social progress for signs of the programs appropriateness or inappropriateness.”122
Parents who choose Mainstream or Inclusion environments need to be aware that most children require support services if they have more severe losses. These services include notetakers, well-trained transliterators and interpreters. The children may also require preferential seating so that they can clearly see the teacher. Many schools provide interpreters and transliterators, however, it is not uncommon for schools to secure the services of interpreters and transliterators that do not have appropriate qualifications. Parents need to intercede on behalf of their child if the interpreter or transliterator is not doing an adequate job. A good interpreter or transliterator faithfully communicates all that is said by the teachers and students. They also give the child access to some of the environmental sounds that occur during the interpreting session. Interpreters and transliterators are bound by a Code of Ethics and may not discuss the details of an interpreting session. Children need notetakers in the upper grades because they cannot look down to write.
Interpretation within the Mainstream or Inclusion environment can be viewed from more than one angle. On the one hand, the interpreter can act as a link to classroom and all that is within it. “…I went to a hearing school. As the only deaf student, though, I experienced a lot of difficulty. Once my school hired a sign language interpreter, however, I had access to my education. I was able to stay at my school instead of flunking out.”123 Classroom situations are usually rife with group discussions. The presence of an interpreter can be useful in these situations, since group discussions are particularly difficult for most deaf individuals to follow. Interpreters, however, are not educators. If a child is having difficulty with a concept, the child/teacher pair must always go through a third party. On the other hand, deaf children are often isolated from their peers, even with an interpreter. The free and easy communication that occurs between children is less likely to happen between a deaf child and his hearing peers, even with an interpreter. The learning that comes from that social interaction is also less likely to occur.
A child that is in a Mainstream or Inclusion environment without the services of an interpreter or transliterator has greater challenges. Children that do not have support services miss out on most, if not all of group discussions. They miss out on incidental learning from their peers. These kids can feel isolated from their peers. Many teachers pace the floor or face the blueboard during class. Children that rely on speechreading may have difficulty understanding a moving target or no target at all. Deaf adult respondents frequently mentioned the inability to understand teachers and classroom isolation as difficulties that they needed to contend with during their school years. “The negative aspects were frustrating feelings of isolation and lack of access communication-wise (I missed out on so much content until finally getting a sign language interpreter in the ninth grade).”124
There are positive aspects to Mainstreaming and Inclusion. A child that is in these types of environments has the opportunity to meet and interact with hearing peers. They are also exposed to a regular curriculum. These children often learn how to be self-starters. They develop excellent study habits that serve them well as adults, often as a direct result of the inability to understand the teacher and the other students.
Some public school systems have self-contained classrooms. These classrooms only contain children who are deaf or hard of hearing. The teachers in these classrooms are specially trained in deaf education. The benefit of this kind of classroom is that all the children are using the same form of communication so the issue of peer isolation is addressed. The teacher also uses some form of sign supported speech unless the school has an oral program. This addresses the issue of using a third party to communicate. The child can go to a school relatively close to home, yet will have some of the same advantages as the oral or residential school.
Since the self-contained classrooms are located in regular public schools, the special visual needs of the deaf students are not usually taken into consideration. Special items such as TTY access, visual- paging systems, carpeting in classrooms and emergency flashers may not be available. Children that wish to take part in after-school activities may not find them as accessible as they would in a residential school environment due to communication barriers.
Many times parents and school districts cannot agree on the issue of “appropriate” education. When this occurs, some parents opt to homeschool their children. Homeschooling is currently a popular alternative to traditional methods. An impressive number of parents that have deaf children have decided to either homeschool full-time, or homeschool part-time as a supplement to regular education. Benefits of homeschool education include clear communication, one-on-one attention, and teaching methods that are adapted to the child’s educational needs and learning style. In addition, the child can work at his own pace and the parents can choose a communication system that works for their child. Children that are under an IEP may receive support services from the State.
However, some parents do not choose this option and prefer to hire their own specialists. Schools are not open to the idea of homeschooling and recommend against it. One parent said “I was convinced that homeschooling was best academically, spiritually, and emotionally for my other two children, but was constantly reminded that I should never expect to meet Joel’s needs on my own. I was convinced that I was incompetent to teach Joel.”125 Yet parents willing to put in the time and effort to create a quality homeschool program often succeed where school systems fail because the program can be tailored to the child’s needs. When homeschooling supplements public school programs, the results can be astounding. “I spent 1-2 hours in the afternoon homeschooling. As a result, my son is leader in the classroom and is one of the best students in his class. I will continue to homeschool in the areas of weakness in order to keep him on the same level as his peers.”126 Homeschoolers handle the issue of peer socialization through homeschool networks and other activities that include groups of children. “We are grateful for the connections we’ve made through our son’s experience in the regional program for the deaf. Homeschooling can isolate your child from other deaf/hh kids, so it takes extra effort to find opportunities to connect with other deaf kids and their families. The regional program has benefited us with these connections. Some homeschoolers are afraid to be involved at all with the public school system, but for us it’s been a helpful resource.”127This document was posted with permission from the author, based on the posting at http://www.listen-up.org/edu/options1.htm. Although this 1998 article remains informative, it is vital that readers do current research.