DHH Program Brings New Culture to Classrooms


Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Daubar

Two hearing-impaired students (left) follow the translations of their interpreter (right). This year, over a dozen additional hearing-impaired students will be walking the halls at Gaither.

Marlena Carrillo, Managing Editor

Beginning this school year, over a dozen new deaf and hard-of-hearing students have joined the Gaither community.

Hearing-impaired students have always been present here at Gaither. Like other students, they hold common goals: to learn, to play sports, to join clubs and to make friends. To help them achieve these goals, they have a variety of teachers and staff in their corner to support them on their academic journey.

“My job is complicated,” explained Jenna Cousin, one of two hearing-impaired teachers here at Gaither. Cousin has been working with the hearing-impaired for nearly 12 years, and teaches curriculum to hearing-impaired students as part of her day, as well as provides support for those students who are able to participate in general education classes with the help of interpreters.

For these students learning in everyday classes, certain accommodations are made to best help them succeed.

“[The students] all use interpreters,” Cousin describes of her students, who joined Gaither this year. “The interpreter is strictly there for language facilitation only. A lot of the kids use hearing equipment, which is hearing aids or [frequency modulation] systems.”

Despite the help made available to them, learning for hearing-impaired students is not always easy. These individuals face certain obstacles while obtaining their education that aren’t always considered.

“Deaf students really struggle with conceptual, non-touchable items,” Cousin said regarding comprehension in their daily classes, and the adjustments teachers provide to make their courses as student-friendly as possible. “When you’re describing something versus how you sign it can be portrayed differently, so they desperately need visual aids.”

For the average student, the ease of audible learning can easily be taken for granted.

“If you’re talking about an atom, you can’t touch an atom,” provided Cousin as an example, “But you have to visually describe an atom using your hands to these kids.”

Beyond educational setbacks, hearing-impaired students experience other mundane, everyday struggles as well.

“You’re setting your alarm clock every morning, and these kids can’t use regular alarms, they have to use vibrating alarms,” Cousin said. “Someone bumps into you and they typically say ‘excuse me’, but they don’t hear that. They kind of miss out on the proper-mannered, gestural things, but they also miss out on socializing.”

As difficult as blending into a hearing-oriented community may be, the Cowboy community has gone above and beyond to make those obstacles as small as possible.

“I hear it’s going to be awesome because here you have an ASL club,” said Cousin, “Apparently a lot of kids have already come up to my students in the cafeteria or just in the hallways, so here they’re able to socialize a lot more, outside of their deaf culture.”

As helpful as Gaither students and staff have been, we still have a long way to go to make our school as accommodative as possible. Cousin calls the adjustment to incorporating deaf education into regular curriculum a learning curve, stating that each student needs to be accommodated in a different way.

In addition to including hearing-impaired students in the academic part of our school, it is also important to make extracurricular activities as receptive as possible.

“Kids love to play sports, they love to be in activities,” Cousin reminds regarding her students. “I have a few that love basketball, a couple that are in automotive, and theatre. They love to participate, and this is the first year that they’ve really been able to branch out and participate.”

There are also a few things individual students can do to be a friendly face among their hard-of-hearing peers. Cousin recommends that everyone learn basic signs, so that they can acknowledge and communicate with their deaf peers with ease, and is also pushing for an ASL class to be offered at Gaither as well.

“There’s so many other schools that offer it,” Cousin said regarding the course. “I’ve had multiple students come up asking me ‘am I teaching a class’, and I’m not.”

Until then, Cousin is comfortable with the progress that Gaither has made so far.

“The kids have been really welcomed,” Cousin said. “So many people have come up to them. It’s been an awesome transition from one school to another.”

Gaither students are encouraged to continue taking steps towards welcoming their newfound peers, and increase their efforts to make the halls even the tiniest bit friendlier for our hearing-impaired.