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BIRMINGHAM BRIDGES SIGNS AND SOUNDS; HEARING-IMPAIRED STUDENTS GETTING HANDS-ON EDUCATION.

Byline: Sherry Joe Crosby Daily News Staff Writer

In classroom H-66 at Birmingham High School, all eyes are on English teacher Dana Rozner - especially her hands, which swoop and dive through the air like two birds.

Holding aloft blue flashcards, Rozner drills a small group of hearing-impaired students in figures of speech, such as ``fit as a fiddle'' and ``go fly a kite,'' chanting each phrase aloud before rapidly translating it into American Sign Language.

The students respond to the exercise with a potent volley of hands and voice.

``It means crowded,'' volunteers one girl with long auburn hair, using her hands to reinforce her definition of the phrase, ``alive with.'' A gangly teen with a crew cut lifts his chin from the table long enough to describe ``in a fog'' as ``confusing.'' Rozner gently corrects him. ``No - to be confused,'' she said.

Birmingham High School's department for the deaf and hard of hearing is the only one of its kind in the San Fernando Valley, said Rozner, who oversees the program and has been teaching at the Van Nuys campus for 19 years.

Unlike other schools that mainstream hearing-impaired students into regular classes, Birmingham offers separate courses and extracurricular activities for the hearing-impaired. Four sign language instructors teach everything from English and history to math and science while six interpreters help hearing-impaired students in mainstream classes.

And while deaf students are the focus of the program, it also is open to hearing students who can take American Sign Language to fulfill foreign language requirements. About 50 hearing students are enrolled in beginning and advanced sign language classes.

``It's the best education,'' said Mindy Cano, 17, who was born deaf and uses a hearing aide. ``For hearing people, it's a good place to meet deaf people.''

Altogether, about 50 hearing-impaired students are enrolled in Birmingham's program. Districtwide, there are about 2,500 deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

At Birmingham, most deaf students take an equal number of regular courses and those geared for the deaf. In Rozner's first-period English class for the hearing impaired, students range from slightly hard of hearing to the profoundly deaf.

Jake Weiss, a strapping 18-year-old who works as a disc jockey in his spare time, was born with a severe hearing loss.

His grandparents, who raised him, didn't realize he was hearing-impaired until he was 5 and failed to respond to a ringing doorbell.

Ever since then, he's divided his time between two very different worlds.

``There's a deaf culture and a hearing culture. I'm part of both,'' said Weiss, who's been able to bridge the gap through his athleticism and ability to read lips. This spring, he played outfield on the school's varsity baseball team and plans to try out again next year.

Sometimes, though, communicating with the hearing can be frustrating. Many deaf students said they often resort to paper and pen to relay their thoughts to the hearing - including their own families.

Less than 5 percent of deaf students in the program have parents who know American Sign Language, Rozner said. Most communicate with their families through a hodge-podge of speech, gestures and writing.

``I wish my parents learned American Sign Language. It's really hard to communicate,'' said Sandra Gonzalez, 17, whose parents speak Spanish and English.

One of the major goals at Birmingham High School is to bring hearing and deaf students into contact with one another, Rozner said. To that end, the school offers deaf students opportunities to participate in school activities and join athletic teams.

This year, juniors Amber Deatrick and Sujey Munoz became the first hearing-impaired girls to join the school's drill team, Rozner said. The girls said they have no trouble keeping up with their hearing peers because they can feel the music's vibration and can always turn to a sign language interpreter for more detailed instructions.

Munoz, 16, said her ability to communicate in sign language makes her unique among her hearing classmates.

``I get approached because they want to learn American Sign Language,'' Munoz said.

Chimere Mims, 18, can hear but wanted to learn sign language because it's uncommon.

``Everybody takes Spanish,'' said the senior, who is enrolled in a beginning sign language course and hopes to learn enough to communicate with a deaf cousin.

CAPTION(S):

3 Photos

Photo: (1) Sophia Mustillo, a 15-year-old student at Birmingham High School, signs to a song at the Woodland Park West Retirement home in Woodland Hills on Friday.

Hans Gutknecht/Daily News

(2) Students at Birmingham High's department for the deaf, the only one of its kind in the Valley, use sign language in a class lesson.

(3) Dana Rozner says she hopes to bring deaf and hearing students closer together.

Myung J. Chun/Daily News
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Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 8, 1998
Words:788
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