Recent History – 2002
May 22, 2002
By Mark Nielsen, Daily News Staff
Imagine going to school but not being able to hear.
You won’t know what the teachers are saying, what your school-mates are talking about — to say the least, your ability to learn will be limited, especially if no one knows sign language.
That’s where people like Haeyoung Noh and Linda Sander come in. For much of each school day, they accompany David Schluter and Christine Cowley and translate what their teachers say into sign language.
Without them, Schluter and Cowley may as well not even attend class. With them, their grades are just as good, and sometimes better, than any other student’s.
“It’s easier for us to know what the teacher is saying,” said Cowley, a Grade 8 student at Central Middle School, through Sander.
There are still challenges — there are times when they’ll feel more than a little left out — and there is an alternative. Some deaf youths fly to Vancouver to attend Burnaby Central where there is a school for the deaf within the regular population.
But both Cowley and Schluter, who is in Grade 6 at Parkhill Elementary, prefer to stay right here in the Mile Zero City. “This is where all my friends are,” said Cowley, who is outgoing and used to communicating in a physical way, like when she acts out how she feels after banging her elbow against a table.
They’re encouraged against relying too much on their interpreters. Both can also lip read and some of their friends have also learned a bit of sign language.
They’re not always out with the rest of the students. For an hour-and-a-half each day, Cowley, Schluter and another student who hails from Charlie Lake but attends Central Middle School and lives with the Schluters during the week, get together at Parkhill for a special language arts class of their own.
In part it’s so they can work one-on-one with Elizabeth Schram who coordinates the school district’s program and in part to re-affirm that neither is the only deaf student in the local school system.
“This is the first year they’ve all been brought together, and to see them just talking to each other is moving because they truly have someone that they can identify with,” Schram said.
Schram, who has lived here for nine years, earned a masters while working at a school for the deaf in Nova Scotia that has since shut down. Sander has been an interpreter for 23 years — something she began while working at the Child Development Centre. Noh, who hails from Korea, learned sign language over two years, but has faced bigger challenges like learning English, and has been an interpreter since last January.
All three love their jobs, in no small part because they get to witness the progress of their students. “One day I was so happy for him because, guess what, he got the highest mark in his class in math,” said Noh of Schluter.
So far, there are no indications that will happen, but with the province capping the amount that will be spent on education there is some concern that the school district will one day be forced to disband the program.
Prime among the program’s defenders is Charla Schluter, David’s mother. “As a parent, it’s really, really scary,” Schluter said of the possibility that, like has happened in the Lower Mainland, the program will someday be eliminated.
There may come a day when he may decide that being among deaf students at Burnaby Central is preferable. But Schluter hopes that’s a decision that’s not forced on him by funding decisions.