Lending an ear

Published 11:24 pm Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fourth-grader Javeon Ensley uses his electronic dictionary with teacher Holly Boyce.

Deaf and hearing impaired students in Suffolk Public Schools have received special electronic dictionaries thanks to support from the Bennett’s Creek Sertoma Club.

The district has purchased six of the $200 devices, one for each of its students who suffer from hearing loss.

Holly Boyce, one of the district’s two itinerant teachers for the deaf and hearing impaired, said the handheld devices help the students feel less isolated from classmates.

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“They can just type in the word, hit enter, and the little lady comes up and signs it for them,” she said. “This way they can be a little bit more independent.”

Students take the devices home each evening and over weekends, giving family members the opportunity to learn more about sign language.

“We’re getting positive feedback from parents, who are enjoying having that resource at home,” Boyce said.

The electronic dictionaries are suitable for school students of all ages, she said. “Even when they’re in preschool we’re working with having them identify their letters,” she said.

Several Suffolk students have such profound hearing loss that they lag well behind in speech, according to Boyce.

These students are provided with sign language interpreters to access the curriculum, which can be draining.

“They have to watch continuously between the interpreter, the teacher, and the visuals presented,” Boyce wrote in her funding application to the Sertoma Club. “This is a tremendous task placed upon these students.”

The devices are also helping the students interact with peers, she said.

“When students who don’t have hearing loss are interested in learning to sign, the hearing-loss students can show them on their dictionaries,” she said.

“You don’t have to have that third person, so you get direct communication. That’s given them that bridge.”

She said that because the devices look like smart phones or handheld gaming systems, students using them don’t feel self-conscious about it. “Other students say, ‘You’ve got a (Nintendo) DS,’” she said.

Meanwhile, Boyce and colleague Reinee Goetsch are encouraging Suffolk residents to take advantage of free sign language classes for the community.

Classes this summer are on July 10 and Aug. 14, at 6:30 p.m. at King’s Fork Middle School.

Call 925-5785 for more information about the classes.