Eastern N.C. school fosters vibrant community of learning

Sight words are those that appear frequently in text. For example, the word “run” has nine different meanings.”You are running down the road. Your nose is running. Carter is running a meeting. I have a run in my pantyhose.””These are words we take for granted. Learning sight words are different for deaf children because they have to learn the sight words and the different meanings for the words as we bridge the gap between English and American Sign Language,” said Laurie Rook.Rook is the lead teacher at the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf in Wilson where teachers pride themselves on using educational tools such as the Fairview Learning Program to bridge communication and learning barriers.Founded in 1964, the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf (ENCSD) serves the 54 easternmost counties of North Carolina by providing individualized comprehensive educational, vocational and residential programs for deaf and hard of hearing students beginning with those as young as kindergarten. Half of the 54 counties served are represented in the student body and students can receive services up until the age of 22.”Ninety to 94 percent of our students come from families that do not sign,” said ENCSD director Carter Bearden. “You’ll find they are automatically behind in the simple acquisition of information that hearing people take for granted, whether it’s through conversations with their parents, siblings or peers, or listening to the news and radio; they don’t have that access.”Having that kind of delay and going to the public school and often as part of less affluent counties, you don’t find the type of resources that are beneficial to helping that student meet his or her academic goals,” he added. “You come to ENCSD and find a staff that predominately signs.”Before students can enroll at ENCSD, students must first attend public school where families and administrators can decide if ENCSD better meets their child’s need. ENCSD is supported by the state of North Carolina under the Department of Public Instruction.”We are a part of the services the state offers to deaf and hard of hearing students; though, we are probably the least known,” said Bearden. “Word is getting out and we are having an increase in the number of students as well.”Rook added, “We follow the same standards every public school does in North Carolina. Our students are allowed modifications to meet the needs of their Individualized Education Plan.Staff is well-trained through the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. In addition to teachers, full-time staff includes an audiologist, psychologist, social worker, guidance counselor, speech language pathologist, pediatrician — all of whom can communicate with the students through signing. On a campus where everyone can communicate through sign language, students blossom.Classrooms are colorful, warm and welcoming. Enrollment is nearing 70 students and the largest class size stands at eight students, providing more one-on-one teacher-to-student instruction. Residential options are available and 75 percent of students choose to live on campus. Students in high school have opportunities in career and technical education classes such as teen living, print shop making, family and consumer sciences, welding, automotive and electrical trades. ENCSD aims to reach the individual needs of every student on campus.”I am the product of deaf parents who went to a School for the Deaf in Texas,” said Bearden. “Out of that experience, there is more of an impact from those who worked with them at the school than there was of my grandparents because of the communication barrier back then.”We are a provider of life-changing opportunities for students. We strive to meet them at the level they are at — to walk with them, engage with them — in such a way that in a short period of time we begin to see dramatic results,” he added.Dramatic results are evident. Sitting in on elementary teacher Nicole Williamson’s class, every student’s hand shoots up in the air to take his and her turn in quickly signing all the “nouns” they can see and identify in the room. The enthusiasm is contagious.