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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Visiting a Deaf School in Costa Rica with DDW

Our first day in Costa Rica, the Discovering Deaf Worlds group visited a school for the deaf in San Jose. As you can see from the sign above, the deaf school is part of a special education center which also provides education for the blind and the mentally retarded. Students who are deaf-blind and students with multiple challenges are educated here as well. If you are interested, you can read more about Centro Nacional de Educacion Especial here and more about its founder, Fernando Centeno G├╝ell here (Google can translate these pages from Spanish for you.)

Welcome sign near the front door of the school

Upon entering the school and being warmly greeted by the principal, we were invited to get back into our tour bus and drive to a theater so we could attend a performance with the school's students. Flexible people that we were, our group had no problem adjusting our plans to experience this unique opportunity.

Once we arrived and took our seats, a translator from Costa Rica sat next to me and explained that there would be no dialog for this play. Instead the performance featured animals of Costa Rica including a frog, a dragonfly, a butterfly, and a snake among others. The animals were painted with day glo colors and the actors holding them and manipulating them were entirely dressed in black. With a black backdrop the actors disappeared and all we could see were the animals writhing and jumping about on the stage. A soundtrack of music and sounds of the rain forest accompanied the action. The volume was set to LOUD. I enjoyed feeling the vibrations of the music and sounds. After the play was over, the actors came out with the animals and showed them to the children and us. The kids thoroughly enjoyed the performance.

Back at the school, we were led on a tour of the classrooms so we could meet the students and learn about their studies. The school educates children from preschool age to 6th grade. One of the ladies in our group hails from Australia. She had brought a bag of tiny koala and kangaroo stuffed animals for the smaller kids at the school. It was really moving for me to see her interact with the kids, inviting them to choose just one from the bag, and then teaching them the Auslan signs for koala and kangaroo. She was a big hit with the children and brought smiles to their faces with her gifts.

In this photo you can see the school's director on the left and a local sign language interpreter on the right. The fish was one of the art projects for the day. A balloon was blown up and then strips of paper were laid over top with paste and then decorated. We were also shown art projects made from recycled materials such as pop can tabs.

We spent the most time with the 6th graders at the school. One by one our group introduced ourselves by finger spelling our names, sharing our sign names, and telling them where we live. When it was my turn, the students were concerned to learn that I didn't have a sign name and decided to remedy the situation.

For those of you who don't know, in deaf culture a sign name is given to you by members of the deaf community. It is not something you choose for yourself. It usually is something simple that represents an aspect of yourself. Using a sign name is more convenient than continually finger spelling a name.

That day I happened to be wearing a big floppy sun hat. One of the students suggested hat for my sign name but was overruled by the others because I don't wear this hat everyday. An animated discussion in sign followed. Then a student asked if I wear my glasses everyday. When I replied yes, the students decided glasses would be my sign name. [Glasses is signed by making a letter g sign at a 90° angle next to one's right eye. Or to describe it another way, by holding the right forefinger and thumb up to the right eye so they could touch the bottom and top of a pair of glasses.]

I was so touched to receive my sign name this way and in this place. Glasses is a perfect name for a librarian who wears bifocals, wouldn't you agree?

At the end of our visit, we had lunch in the school cafeteria. We were served rice with chicken and vegetables, salad, and cantaloupe. I was impressed by the healthy fresh food. I wished my son were fed this way at his school.

Before leaving we gave the director a donation that was raised through the price of our trip. She accepted the money graciously and told us the door to the school would always be open to us.

"I can be all that I want to be" sign on the playground


~~kym~~ said...

How interesting and I love that you officially have a sign name now...awesome!!
Can't wait to read more about your vacation.

Jonathan said...

What a great story, Sarah.

That play sounds amazing. I wish I could see it. It actually reminds me of some of the plays that were put on by various schools of the Deaf across Canada, when they came to our school for a national tournament last May.

Not to be a downer or anything, I would like to inform you that some Deaf people in USA and Canada may tell you that your sign name is incorrect. Why? Sign names are not suppose to be based on a person's job, quirks (like wearing a floppy hat), things that s/he uses (like hearing aids, glasses, oxygen tank, etc.), etc. It's suppose to be completely independent, much like how you were named Sarah. So, I'd rather you be prepared and not be stunned when you first hear this kind of comment.

However, whenever we finally meet up, I'd be happy to call you "Glasses" in ASL if we ever shift our conversation in ASL from English.

P.S. Sounds like your son's school needs a Jamie Oliver-styled intervention. Do you remember how he went to Huntington, WV, to try transform the way food was made and served to children and teenagers at various schools in this town?

Anonymous said...

I was happy to read about the time you spent there and your story. I think you were brave to go there alone! For the record my sign name is K at the cheek. My deaf teacher gave me that name because I smiled a lot in class and my name begins with K of course. Now we both know each other's sign names.


Liz said...

Enjoyed this read and look forward to hearing more. The school sounds really nice. :)

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Hi Jonathan,
Thanks for your concern. Actually someone in my group told me not to be surprised if the deaf community in my area changes that name to something of their own choosing. She suggested she would change it to letter s at the chin with "thank you" gesture because she noticed how I am constantly expressing my gratitude - to the point of going overboard about it. It became a little joke between us.

I will have to look up Jamie Oliver. I don't know about him.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Thanks for sharing your sign name with me, Kim!