When their daughter Morey started kindergarten, the Belanger family was worried about how things would go.
That was because their 6-year-old daughter is deaf.
Rather than enroll her in a special school for deaf and hard-of-hearing children, Morey’s parents decided to give her a traditional school experience and enroll her in Dayton Consolidated School in Dayton, Maine.
They worried, understandably, whether their daughter would be able to make friends. They also had concerns as to how her classmates would treat her and whether her teachers would be able to help her learn effectively. But then the school had a response they never expected.
Most schools would ensure there were learning resources in place to help any students who were deaf or hard of hearing.
Resources like these include captions and special education classes. But Dayton Consolidated decided to do one better: they taught all their students and faculty sign language. That way, everyone could communicate with Morey on a personal level.
That means 160 people, both children, and adults, learning American Sign Language together to reach out to the little girl.
“I absolutely feel like it makes her feel welcomed,” said Morey’s mom, Shannon Belanger. “I think all the kids feel excited that they know another language and I think they think it’s fun. It makes me happy to see her supported, loved and accepted. [Morey] is excited to go to school every day. She’s made really good friendships.”
Not only did they learn sign language, but they also made other accommodations. These included putting up sign language posters in the halls and installing a special hearing system. Additionally, they provided extra training so that teachers could become more familiar with the language.
And the staff says Morey isn’t the only one who is benefiting from the new arrangement.
“Morey — without even knowing it — has taught us so much,” says principal Kimberly Sampietro. “She has brought a culture to our building that we didn’t have before. Morey helped all of [the kindergarten class] to learn the alphabet. The kids have just really embraced her. They look up to her, they want her around, and they want to partner with her.”
And the school wanted to give them more examples of those with hearing loss.
Knowing that elementary school students in rural Maine weren’t used to interacting with others who use sign language, the school invited someone else to sign with them — a real princess.
“We wanted to show our students that this isn’t something they can only speak with Morey,” said Sampietro. “We wanted to show them that signing happens in all kinds of settings.”
Cinderella arrived from Rent a Princess to sign with the students, Morey included.
Morey’s hearing loss is a result of a condition that’s extremely rare — so rare, in fact, that it’s never been named. In spite of that, thanks to the hard work and goodwill of her classmates and teachers, she can interact with them on her terms.
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