Win-Win for Two
Unique Populations


By Cindee Schwartz and SueAnn Gurwell

Stratton Elementary is home to Colorado Springs School District 11’s site-based program for Deaf/hard of hearing students. Community Prep School (CPS) is a Charter High School providing an accredited alternative education for students throughout the Colorado Springs region and located within the same district.

Cindee Schwartz, the sign language teacher at CPS and former teacher of the Deaf/hh at District 11’s Palmer High School, and Sue Ann Gurwell, a current teacher of the Deaf/hh at Stratton, have joined forces to provide enhanced, enriched, and cross-cultural educational experiences for their students. This practice is repeated with each term of new sign language students.

In accordance with the CPS milestones of creating community partnerships that benefit students’ development for their higher education, career and life goals, as well as looking for ways to contribute and give back to their Colorado Springs community, CPS students begin their introduction to Deaf culture and sign language instruction. With these underlying factors in mind, they learn and practice the skills necessary to accurately and fluently sign a children’s story and gain an understanding of their target audience. After five weeks of study, they are finally ready for the big day; a trip to Stratton Elementary School to interact with the exceptional students there. The atmosphere is charged - the high school kids are excited and a bit nervous; the elementary students are bursting with excitement and anticipation.

When these two unique populations get together, wonderful things happen for both groups.  From the Stratton students’ point of view, they experience feelings of appreciation and self-worth, derived from the fact that a group of young adults care enough to learn sign language and communicate to them in their own language. They are uplifted and enjoy the older role models.  These elementary students get to learn and practice socialization and life skills by playing games and interacting with the older students. They even enjoy a pizza party together.  These deaf and hard of hearing classmates’ literacy skills are furthered developed and strengthened in the process.

The Community Prep School students gain much from their experience, as well.  These high school kids who have trouble ‘fitting in’ in a traditional educational setting, boost their own self esteem by serving as role models for the younger students and helping them with literacy. They are engaged in a dynamic learning experience which helps them further develop positive character traits, as well as gives them the opportunity to try out a viable career path by giving them a real life introduction to deaf education and interpreting.

The learning continues well after the students bid their farewells. The elementary students practice their writing skills through thank you letters to the high school students, while the high school students journal and discuss their experiences and possible next steps.  Putting their experience into practice, several CPS students actually enrolled in classes at the community college in the interpreting program, having discovered their career path.

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