From : Seattle Post Intelligencer - Oct 30, 2008
By DEBBIE ABE
THE NEWS TRIBUNE
LAKEWOOD, Wash. — In teacher Lisa Hough’s classroom, pictures of letters loaded in a choo-choo train chug across the wall, and the clatter of rambunctious preschoolers livens the morning lessons. It’s a typical preschool class almost. A poster, tacked on a bookcase at kids’ height, spells out the alphabet in sign language. As Hough goes over the day’s activities with her pint-sized students she asks, "Did we do coloring today ?" while fluttering her fingers against her chin. That’s the sign for coloring.
One by one, the youngsters respond, "Yes, we did coloring" out loud and in American Sign Language, and check off "coloring" on their daily planner. This is a typical day in a new preschool for deaf and hard-of-hearing children at Carter Lake Elementary School on McChord Air Force Base. The Clover Park School District started the preschool class this fall, the first time it’s offered a hearing-impaired program, said Ann Almlie, Clover Park’s director of special education.
The Lakewood-area district enrolls 12,000 students, including 15 to 20 deaf or hard-of-hearing children, a year. But because few of the hearing-impaired students are in the same grade, the district generally arranges for those needing full-time specialized instruction to attend programs in the larger Tacoma and Puyallup districts.
But with enough hearing-impaired 3- to 5-year-olds in Clover Park to make a program viable this year, Almlie said : "We didn’t want them to travel so far. Special-education laws say it’s our responsibility to provide programs for our children ; the only time we don’t is when we don’t have a program to provide them services." Since most of the youngsters have a parent in the military and live on Fort Lewis or McChord, the district housed the program at Carter Lake Elementary.
Five 3- and 4-year-olds with hearing problems and two "peer model" preschoolers with normal hearing attend the free 2 1/2-hour preschool sessions four mornings a week. The goal is to give the kids enough of a head start to eventually enter general education classes.
Two older, hearing-impaired children have the help of an interpreter when they attend regular kindergarten in the mornings at Carter Lake, then spend afternoons with Hough.
It’s benefiting Carter Lake’s general student body as well, as they learn about another language and culture, said Principal Paul Douglas. Some staff members are learning sign language from a class interpreter.
"Students beg teachers to share signs with them so they can play with our deaf and hearing-impaired students," Douglas said.
With the program nearer to his home on Fort Lewis, 4-year-old Jonathan Ferguson now rides the bus for 15 minutes, instead of enduring last year’s 45-minute bus excursion to the hearing-impaired preschool at Zeiger Elementary on South Hill, said his mother, Theresa Ferguson. "The whole program is wonderful, the resources they have available and the teachers are fantastic," Ferguson said. "We chose to go to Clover Park because of her."