Las Vegas Sun

August 10, 2022

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Deaf students learn about a college option just for them

Gallaudet University Visit

Leila Navidi / Las Vegas Sun

Janeth Gastelum, a Liberty senior, asks a question Thursday during a presentation by a representative from Gallaudet University, an undergraduate liberal arts university in Washington, D.C., for deaf and hard of hearing students.

Gallaudet University Visit

Deaf and hard of hearing students from Greenspun Junior High School and Liberty High School Launch slideshow »

Beyond the Sun

It could have been a visit from any college recruiter to a Clark County high school, were it not for the question and answer session being conducted entirely through nimble fingers and hands.

At Liberty High School this week, the queries came in rapid succession for Nick Gould, a recent graduate of Gallaudet University, the world’s first higher education institution for the deaf: How big is the college? How many dorms? Are there varsity sports? What about scholarships?

Gould, who travels the country on behalf of his Washington, D.C., alma mater, answered in sign language. Several teachers from Liberty and Greenspun Junior High — which sent about 20 deaf eighth-graders to attend Thursday’s presentation — took turns interpreting for the benefit of the hearing audience.

About 1,100 undergraduate students attend Gallaudet, Gould said, and most live in the five on-campus dorms. Gallaudet students play most major sports, usually competing against other small colleges in Washington, Virginia and Pennsylvania. For this fall’s semester, for example, tuition, room and board, and fees total about $10,500.

And there are plenty of financial aid opportunities, including the possibility of in-state and federal money earmarked to help people with disabilities pursue career training and higher education.

Like most colleges and universities, Gallaudet requires students to submit their college entrance exam scores, letters of recommendation and personal essays. But students must also provide a copy of an audiogram, confirming they are deaf or hard of hearing.

Gould said Gallaudet “is a place where we can thrive with our deafness, instead of running around it. I don’t think any other university in the world offers that.”

Brandy Brown, a senior at Liberty, wants to go to college to study photography and plans on being a teacher. She’s interested in Gallaudet, in particular because of the chance to improve her sign language fluency. Born deaf in one ear and with a profound hearing loss in the other, Brown said she sometimes struggles to follow conversations, even with the help of an interpreter. Gallaudet offers a summer course for new students to help them get their signing skills up to the speed they’ll need to keep pace with instruction. The possibility of being in an “more aggressive” learning environment is appealing, Brown said.

Brown, 18, moved to Las Vegas from San Diego six years ago, and said the quality of the Clark County School District’s specialized program is superior to what she experienced in California. The curriculum goes deeper into the subject matter, and there’s more support for individual students, Brown said. Someday she would like to return to Las Vegas and teach.

Three years ago, when the district moved one of its specialized programs for deaf students to Liberty, Principal Rosalind Gibson added American Sign Language to the school’s curriculum and offered it to all students. The class has become popular, and gives hearing students a perspective on what their deaf peers experience, said Robert Stuart, who teaches ASL at Liberty.

It’s also opens up lines of communication among students who might otherwise be tentative about starting up a conversation, Stuart said.

There are 408 deaf or hard-of-hearing students in the School District. The district graduates about 25 hearing impaired students each year, and of those about five go on to four-year colleges and eight to 10 of them opt for two-year institutions. Those rates are consistent with national averages.

The district has guidance counselors specially trained to work with deaf students and help them plan for life after graduation, whether it’s higher ed or joining the workforce.

And although many colleges and universities offer accommodations to students with disabilities, there’s no question Gallaudet’s learning environment is unique, said Nicole Puza, the Liberty teacher who arranged Gould’s visit.

“Students who go there don’t have to worry about whether there will be an interpreter,” Puza said. “They walk into any classroom and they know it’s in sign language.”

Gould’s presentation appeared to have piqued the interest of several Liberty students, including Anthony Madrid.

“I can’t wait to go visit,” said Madrid, with the help of an interpreter. “I want to meet the people, see what’s offered, I’m very excited about college now.”

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