UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State recently hosted Pennsylvania’s first Deaf and Hard of Hearing Summer Academy, which is designed to prepare high school students for their transition to higher education.
Twenty-two high school students who are deaf, hard of hearing or deaf-blind and reside in Pennsylvania participated in the program from July 9 to 21. While at University Park, participants learned about a variety of topics, including assistive technology; communication access options; self-advocacy, self-awareness and the law; vocational development; recreation and team building; financial management; and social work.
Students also had an opportunity to go bowling, participate in a scavenger hunt, and attend a State College Spikes baseball game.
“We were proud to host the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Summer Academy, which supports and empowers high school students as they make the exciting, but also challenging, transition to college,” said Diane Williams, head of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Penn State.
The academy also presents a unique working opportunity for Penn State students, including those who are majoring in communication sciences and disorders.
“This is an excellent hands-on opportunity for Penn State students who are pursuing a career that will include working with the deaf and hard of hearing community, particularly students who are studying sign language,” said Sommar Chilton, instructor of American Sign Language courses at Penn State. “This is also a wonderful opportunity for students who are interested in a career in education or simply want to support high school students as they prepare for the next step in their academic careers.”
For student Alicia Hart, who plans to become a speech therapist for children who are deaf or hard of hearing, working for the academy as a resident assistant was not only an opportunity to improve her sign language skills; the academy also introduced her to much more.
“I have felt how rewarding it is when you are apart of something bigger than yourself,” Hart said. “It has been great to see each student come out of their shell and open up and make friends they would not have otherwise made without the opportunity to come here, while also gaining confidence and self-advocacy skills they didn’t have before — and it all happens throughout only two weeks.”
Student Ann Marie Gardner, who hopes to become a high school speech-language pathologist, also served as a resident assistant for the academy.
“I learned how influential other people and the environment in which a student is in can affect them,” Gardner said. “I have also gained insight on what it is like to be a student with a hearing loss in a mainstream school, and how students can be ostracized. It is amazing to see how these students are so happy and energetic to finally meet others their age who are also deaf and hard of hearing. They have gone most of their lives being the only one experiencing a hearing loss, and to make that connection with others and to use sign language with each other is amazing to watch.”
Student Rachel Gindhart, who served as a resident assistant and plans to become a pediatric speech-language pathologist, said one of the most memorable aspects of the academy was taking participants to Stone Valley Recreation Area for canoeing and rock climbing.
“All of the students made the effort to try the activities, even if it was out of their comfort zone,” Gindhart said. “This experience will help me be able to relate to and communicate with my future clients, whether they are hearing, hard of hearing or deaf.”
The academy is possible through a partnership between the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders in the College of Health and Human Development at Penn State, the College of Education at Penn State, the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Pennsylvania Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the Bureau of Special Education in the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network within the Bureau of Special Education, and Educational Resources for Children with Hearing Loss, an advisory committee to the Bureau of Special Education.
“I am amazed with the amount of personal growth each student experienced while at the Summer Academy. Each student truly benefited from our comprehensive curriculum of classes, and each had the opportunity to get a taste of college life before going to college or making a decision on whether college is right for them,” said Russ Goddard, statewide coordinator of deaf and hard of hearing services and director of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Summer Academy Program for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Penn State also hosts the Summer Academy for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired, which helps prepare blind and visually impaired high school students for college.
Republished with permission.