A Glimpse Into the Literacy Program Experience
Julie* holds up a green shamrock, made out of handprints, to show off her St. Patrick’s Day spirit. Her younger sister Maria displays a picture she has drawn of a rainbow with a pot of gold at the end, hiding her shy grin behind the paper. The girls have spent the last two hours with their mentor, a young Deaf woman who uses her knowledge of American Sign Language (ASL), English, and early childhood education to create language-rich activities that will help the sisters develop their bilingualism and literacy.
Julie is a five-year-old Deaf girl from Southeast Michigan, and Maria is her three-year-old sister. Both girls have mild to moderate hearing loss with the possibility of progressive hearing loss, and although the girls have speaking abilities their parents searched for ways to improve communication with their daughters through ASL. It was this search that lead them to the Deaf-Hearing Family Literacy Program at Madonna University, a program primarily funded through the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. Their mother Susan explained that she and her husband Joe wanted to provide their children with multiple communication options to support their literacy development. Since beginning the program, Susan and Joe have noticed that the girls have come to not only accept their deafness but also realize that they are not alone in the world.
The sisters’ self-esteem has improved and now they are comfortable using multi-modal communication and literacy to navigate through the world. Susan also emphasized that the program is leading to her daughters making connections with the broader community. She said, “Everything we are learning in the program is being fed back into our community and really – that’s just awesome.” In addition to self-esteem, Julie and Maria’s language skills have grown, and so have their parents’ skills. Their mentor Lexy commented, “It’s amazing to know that the parents strongly believe in bilingualism and understand the importance of rich access to communication.”
Reflecting on the potential that the Deaf-Hearing Family Literacy Program can afford children like Julie and Maria, the program director Debbie Mitre-Smith stated: “Right now, we are creating learning opportunities for children based entirely on arts and crafts. Imagine how many more opportunities we could give these children to grow and learn with the addition of technology!”
*Pseudonyms used for privacy