For hearing impaired children school can be terrifying, Sequoia Deaf School hopes to ease those fears by creating a loving and caring environment where children can grow and prosper.
Located in Mesa, but with students coming from all corners of the Valley, Sequoia Deaf School provides K-12 education for children with hearing impairment while preparing them for life after school by placing them alongside students who can hear.
“It is a complete immersion program that allows not just for the students who have an impairment but also their siblings who want to attend and often times who get left behind in the need for attention for their hearing-impaired siblings,” said Jerry Lewis, assistant superintendent of Sequoia Charter Schools.
Lewis cares greatly about getting the best education for his students, going as far as to offer free clothes, food and other essentials to students so there is no distraction from learning.
“Nothing stands in the way of their education,” Lewis said. The donated essentials provide one less worry for students.
Founded in 1998, Sequoia Deaf School focuses on learning American sign language (ASL) first before tackling other subjects like math and English.
“We work hard to get them signing so they can speak ASL language first,” said Dr. Heather Laine, principal of the deaf school.
Sequoia utilizes the Bedrock Literacy Curriculum, a program that focuses on the needs of deaf and hard of hearing students to increase their English competency.
Laine, who is hearing impaired herself, takes the time to lovingly know every student and parent’s name along with any special needs they may have. Almost half of the students have disabilities other than hearing impairment, and the school welcomes any disability a student might have.
The nearly 60 students enrolled in the school get to see Laine interact with both deaf and hearing people.
“Every student has access to regular programs, we provide both worlds,” she said. “We have both a hearing world and a deaf world, they see how I manage both worlds.”
Among those opportunities include playing sports. Senior Naykor Gutierrez learned a lot of skills and enjoyed traveling around the state while playing basketball and football for Sequoia. He played defense on the football team and was center for the basketball team, because of his height. Gutierrez said the coach sent him in because he worked hard.
Gutierrez hopes to attend Southwest Collegiate Institute for the Deaf (SWCID) after graduating from Sequoia. The Texas-based school appears on many lists as one of the top colleges in the country for deaf students.
The senior class operates a bath bomb business out of the school, with Gutierrez working as CEO. Students learn about business and money as they buy the materials and make the bath bombs, which are sold on campus.
“Typically, students with hearing impairments struggle to achieve academically at a level you would see hearing students, notwithstanding the challenges they have, because of the care and the technology and the integrated programs at the school, our students do much better overall than you’ll see at other schools,” Lewis said.
Some of those challenges are preparing students for the real world after graduation.
“When they graduate from high school, that’s the world they are going to live in and if they are not prepared for it then we have failed them, then we haven’t done them any favors. We have to prepare them for secondary education and a post-secondary life as well,” Lewis said.
– John O’Brien is a Mesa Community College journalism intern for MyNewsMesa.com.