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 Güell here (Google can translate these pages from Spanish for you.)
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.