When Miss Kat was approaching her third birthday, it was time to pick a school. We had always taken a sort of Total Communication route in our home. We would sign in English word order, CASE, and speak the English words at the same time. Kat on the other had was much more comfortable with a more ASL structure. We needed to see the school options and decide which would be the "least restrictive environment" for Miss Kat to learn.
In our area we had 3 options at the school for the Deaf, and our local school district preschool. We started by visiting the local preschool. We knew right away this was no appropriate for Miss Kat. She would be the only child with a hearing loss that they had ever had, the class had 22 students and no one understood sign. That choice was out.
We next visited the self-contained Oral preschool class for the Deaf. It was in a normal hearing elementary school. They had three rooms full of new and cool toys. There were around 15 kids in the program with 3 teachers. We observed the class. The kids seem very behind. Most of them didn't respond when the teacher's spoke to them. They couldn't follow one step instructions like "Go sit down", several didn't seem to know their names! They had to use gestures to show the kids what they wanted. We asked if the teachers would understand when Miss Kat signed to them. They told me that they knew some signs and would probably understand, but they would NEVER sign back and that "Eventually, she'll stop too". We also made the mistake of signing when we were in the classroom. All the children whipped around and stared at our hands. The teachers got really grumpy with us too. We knew that this would be a terrible fit for Miss Kat.
Next, we visited the TC classroom. It was located just down the hall from Oral preschool. There were only 5 kids in this class. We sat down to observe, assuming this would be the placement for our Kat. The very first thing we were struck by was how behind the kids where. Miss Kat knew all her colors and letters and a few numbers before she turned 3, but these children were still working on single nouns! "Shoes" (signs shoes as well) "Shoes" (signs shoes again) "These are SHOES" (signs only the word shoes). There are 3-4 year olds who don't even know the word shoe? I was horrified. We also noticed that the teacher only signed every third or so word. When the teacher voiced "Let's all get our coats, line up, and then we'll go outside", she only signed "Coat", "line", and "outside". That was a terrible signing language model! Even I signed better than that! After we spoke with the teachers we also learned that they considered TC a class for kids who either weren't ready for the Oral class, or who had been in that class and failed. They had a variety of ages in the class and almost all had no language. We didn't want a class for failures for Miss Kat, and we didn't want her to stop signing. This was not the place for her.
The last option for Miss Kat was a school called Jean Massieu School. It was started as a charter school by some parents who didn't think the State School for the Deaf had good enough options. It is a Bilingual-Bi cultural or bi-bi school. That means the school is a voice-off program. All instruction and class room communication is in ASL. Almost all the students were Deaf children of Deaf parents. We had been told that since Miss Kat wore hearing aids and we were hearing, that we wouldn't want this school. We decided we should visit anyway. JMS was located in a run down old elementary school. It was their 4th location in 5 years. The toys were old and worn out, obviously most were purchased second hand or donated. There were four 3 year olds and three 4 year olds sharing a classroom. The kids ran over and started asking us questions as soon as we walked in the door. The oldest boy signed so fast and animated that I had no idea what he was saying! The youngest, Jamila, walked straight up to Miss Kat and signed "Two-of-us (are) friends now. Come play. (We) have a slide." I was hooked. These kids could communicate. They had language. They were normal kids at a normal school that happen to use a different language than I do. The children were being taught an age appropriate curriculum. They weren't behind. The teachers expected the kids to understand them, to tell stories, to communicate. They read stories, and had circle time. They weren't special needs, or handicapped, they were just Deaf.
Miss Kat now attends the Jean Massieu School for the Deaf and will be entering Kindergarten in a few weeks.