Deaf and hard-of-hearing children in Saskatoon and Regina can now attend preschools that communicate in the classroom via American Sign Language (ASL).
A grand opening for the early learning pilot program was held at Saskatoon’s St. Therese of Lisieux School, where 10 children are learning from two teachers who are fluent in ASL.
The students are led through exercises that expand their ASL vocabulary in a play-based learning environment, using items like balls, blocks and playmats.
One of the children benefitting from the program is five-year-old Noah Van Ee.
The young boy was diagnosed as “profoundly deaf” at the age of two, and he had difficulty finding a way to communicate with his parents — both of whom were hearing, and had no history of deafness in their family.
“It was shocking,” his mom Sojna told 650 CKOM. “It’s this road of ‘what do we do now? What does this mean for our son?'”
Van Ee now has a cochlear implant, which has allowed him to learn and communicate in English when he’s in a quiet room.
But that’s more difficult in a classroom setting, where the noise of other children and school bells isn’t filtered out by the implant the way a natural ear would tune it out.
Being enrolled in the new preschool in September, where he can learn in ASL, has made a big difference.
“As he attains more ASL, his personality just blossoms,” his mom said. “We see him become more confident, and I just look forward to seeing where he will go.”
If Van Ee’s, or any other child’s, hearing device runs out of batteries or fails, they can continue learning without disruption — something that wouldn’t happen if they were integrated into a normal classroom.
“They still need access to education, they still need access to language,” said Nairn Gillies, executive director of Saskatchewan
Deaf and Hard of Hearinge Services — the organization operating the Saskatoon school.
“If you teach a child (ASL), no matter what happens with technology … they’ll still have access. This connects people across North America.”
Parents aren’t required to pay extra tuition for their kids to attend the program, which is funded by the provincial and federal governments.
Both the Saskatoon and Regina school — located at Henry Janzen School — have capacity for 16 children to attend.
‘It makes a big difference’
In addition to welcoming children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, the preschool is also bringing in hearing kids who have deaf parents.
Gale Estell, a hard-of-hearing mom who has four children, has enrolled her youngest son Russel in the preschool.
“He’s not so scared as compared to the other kids, who were extremely shy going to a normal preschool,” she said.
“It’s a big difference.”
She said Russel has been more outgoing and confident than his siblings.
“A huge difference between a signing preschool and a normal preschool is there’s no pressure for kids to speak or communicate in just one way,” she said.