I probably have an unusual pre-college education compared to most Williams College students, so I thought it would be interesting to share my experience.
Pre-School and Elementary School
I know I participated in some sort of pre-school education, but obviously my memory is quite fuzzy here. I was in a program where I’d attend a few sessions a week with other deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) students and had teachers who knew sign language. I’m not sure how much “learning” went on, since it’s pre-school.
Then came elementary school. But before I discuss that, I just want to briefly point out the concept of mainstreamed education. As I was a mainstreamed student, I can provide my own definition in the context of deaf and hard of hearing education: this means we take part in regular education with most of the other (hearing) students in our grade, but will occasionally sit in “special education” sessions that specifically cater to our needs. Typically, we’ll have some sort of accommodation in the regular classes, such as a microphone/FM system, while the special education classes have no need for them since the teachers are trained to teach such students.
Anyway, while in elementary school, It was here that I believe I first experienced the distinction of having the two styles of classes. I was assigned to be in regular courses for all my “core” classes (English, Math, Science, and Social Studies) along with a few other DHH students my grade, but I also took part in sessions designed specifically for DHH students. For instance, I took speech and social work sections, which teach skills that are harder (on average) for deaf students to acquire as compared to hearing students. A quick note: some DHH students take their core courses in the special education classes, so they essentially receive all their education there. It all depends on the student’s education plan.
My elementary school was unique in that it actually had these kind of special education classes. Most schools don’t, which means many DHH students are forced to take long bus rides to an appropriate school. I was one of them during elementary school, but as far as I can tell I was better off than some of the students, especially those who had to undergo two hour rides each day to and from school (four hours of being on the bus a day!).
My split between taking part in regular and special education classes continued in middle school, but with a more skewed focus to the regular classes. This is necessary, after all; while special education classes are useful, they almost always can’t provide as much material as a regular class.
At the time I was a student, my middle school had nine forty-minute periods in a day. One of these was a daily “tutorial” period where students don’t have a class and can focus on their work (or play games). My tutorial room was located in the same room where most of the other DHH students took classes. Unfortunately, the tutorial period wasn’t standardized for students; in other words, my school essentially divided the students into nine groups, each with their own specific tutorial period. This limited the time I could interact with other DHH students, since it was rare that we would have the chance to meet in the tutorial room at the same period. They could also be in the middle of a class even if they were there, further restricting socialization.
There were a few DHH students in my grade, and in an effort to make efficient use of interpreters (and other resources), my school auto-assigned us to be in the same classes, so at least I wasn’t completely alone in those classes.
I continued to take speech and social work sessions throughout middle school, in the same classroom as the tutorial room for all DHH students, but I never took any academic classes there. As I mentioned earlier, I did have about two or three other DHH students in my core courses as well as a few secondary ones, such as Health, Music, and Physical Education.
The process of taking important examinations was also unique for me. If there was a normal test made by a teacher, I would take it in class with the other students. But for state-administered exams, I would take it in a separate, private room with an interpreter by my side in case I needed to listen to instructions. Obviously, they weren’t allowed to actually take the exam for me. It was pretty convenient for me, since I didn’t have to worry about the distraction of other students.
At the time I was a student, my high school was designed so that there were four kinds of days (A, B, C, and D), and we would cycle through them during the academic year. On “B” and “D” days, during the second of four designated, 85-minute “blocks” of the day, there would be an “advisory” period, which is basically like study hall — students are assigned to a class, but there’s not going to be a lecture, so we can work on whatever we want.
Naturally, being a DHH student, I was assigned to be in the same advisory classroom as the other DHH students. This was much better than the situation in middle school, where my tutorial period wouldn’t coincide with the tutorial periods of other DHH students. While my advisories were often filled with work — I was regularly juggling several Advanced Placement classes at a time — I occasionally found time to play several rounds of chess and other games with other DHH students. The advisory period was also useful for organizing activities among the DHH students, since we were all together in one period. We would sometimes have special days that included an annual picnic, a trip to an amusement park (e.g., this one), and food provided during holiday seasons.
I still took some speech and social work classes and most of my midterms, final exams, and state-administered exams in a separate room. But after an agreement with my teachers, I no longer had to take speech and social work classes. I had about ten years of those classes, and we all agreed that further improvement due to these sessions would be negligible.
Finally, in high school, we had more freedom to pick their own schedule. Thus, I was no longer guaranteed to have other DHH students in my classes. In fact, I think the only true high school class I had that included other DHH students was physical education.
I was fortunate to live near a school district that was able to effectively provide me with what I needed in order to perform well in school. I’m now a student at Williams College, where there are no other deaf students, so at this point, I’m basically “on my own.” The transition from a mainstreamed pre-college education to a mainstreamed/hearing college is now complete.