I have written a few times about my current Prelude project – a fabulous group of kids in the primary multi-handicapped class at Chase Elementary. They are all precious. Generous with their smiles and hugs, these kids are Exhibit A in the case for individuals with special needs. The message they want to convey in their play is simple – be nice to people, and think about how your words and actions might effect others. Funny how profound that statement can be when we are reminded of it via children who sometimes struggle to communicate. Yet, communicate they do. Some are talkative (I'm looking at you Steven and Jasmine!), and some are more shy with their words, but their smiles convey their thoughts.
There is only one person who worries me with her inability to communicate fully in this group . . .
For the first time in my teaching career, I have a student who is hearing impaired and who communicates by large portion through American Sign Language, which I do not know. This limitation frustrates me to no end, and I struggle with my own ignorance.
I have worked with students who speak Spanish and other languages in the past, but I never felt quite as distant, because though my words might not make sense, the tones of my voice would always convey some meaning to them. In fact, my degree is in Music Education and I am a singer. For most of my life, my voice has been my anchor, my secret superpower. Even if no one else knew that I could sing, I knew it, and that was powerful. The idea of separating my voice from my person is unthinkable. Vocal control and projection is a major part of what I work on with students in preparation for their performances. I try not to use microphones in Prelude performances because I so want students to learn those skills. So what, then, do I have to offer Maria? How can I teach her anything new? What can I do to encourage artistic expression?
Maria has an interpreter, the fabulous Theresa, who helps us all communicate with her, but to really make sure that Maria gets the same Prelude experience as the other kids, sheer communication isn't enough to shoot for. Let's act. Let's perform. Let's push ourselves. Since I can't help her do that, I called in a friend who could.
At ETC we have an ASL interpreted performance of each production we do. For these, we bring in the wonderful Dawn, a local interpreter who looks over our scripts, sees a performance, and then performs right alongside the actors. I couldn't think of a better person to help Maria, Theresa, and I address the particular performance issues that arise when an actor has a hearing impairment. So, Dawn came to class with me last week and spent a portion of the time with Maria and Theresa working on Maria's role. The rest of the time Maria spent with me, because she has decided to both sign AND speak her lines. Maria is not profoundly deaf, and can speak, though she isn't completely in tune with the muscles and breathing required for projection. Happily, I CAN help her with those issues.
Maria is doing great, and so are the rest of the kids. I'll tell you more about the rest of them another day. They warrant their own entries as well, but I wanted to record this particular challenge and journey on this blog because I personally find great inspiration in the little girl who speaks with her voice and her hands. For someone who thought I knew voices well, I have learned a lot from Maria, Dawn, and Theresa.