Telling Stories and Making Memories – Deaf Storyteller Acts as Role Model for FHSD Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students

Posted on 05/16/2018
Telling Stories and Making Memories – Deaf Storyteller Acts as Role Model for FHSD Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students

FHSD strives to provide equal learning opportunities for all students. Every student learns differently and it’s important to recognize that different abilities are not disabilities. By creating an even playing field for students and providing positive role models, it is possible to fortify strengths, identify opportunities for improvement, and kindle lasting friendships.

A notable opportunity for this type of development is the Deaf Storyteller program through the St. Louis Storytelling Festival. The festival’s storytellers share folk stories, fairytales, real-life events, and poems supplemented with drums, dancers, music, and sound effects across the St. Louis area.

Perhaps the most intriguing storyteller in their lineup didn’t utter a single word or even make a sound during his performance. Peter Cook utilizes pantomime, body language, audience participation, and movement in his performance to tell his stories… because he is deaf. Performing for deaf and hard of hearing students from FHSD and other districts, Cook incorporated American Sign Language (ASL) and an interpreter into his routine to ensure that every student understood his story.

“Storytelling is a way we can meet on a middle ground. They are able to see expressions, they’re able to see the ways people tell a story when everyone’s not on the same playing field,” said Traci Edlen, a sign language interpreter for the District. “They are telling a story and everyone is in the same place at the same time in the end."

Cook performed a variety of stories and skits, including riding an alligator to school, pulling teeth at the dentist office, and turning students into a washing machine. No student was safe from audience participation, and even the most reluctant high school students were brought on stage to play the part of his tennis shoe. Staff and students were full of laughs and wonder and everyone enjoyed his tall tales.

While the storytelling itself provided special memories for all in attendance, special bonds were made before Cook even took the stage. At the start of the day, students were grouped at tables by grade level, from elementary through high school, and asked to play question and answer games. The first few questions were strained, as best methods of communication had to be established. Interpreters facilitated communication for students who signed, and microphones were used to amplify voices for students who wear cochlear implants. After these lines were established, the students could talk freely back and forth. “It is a day for them to practice their language, whether that be orally, with Total Communication, or ASL,” said LaWanda Brewer, teacher of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing.

Cook made his way through the tables, speaking with students and utilizing the interpreters himself. “My favorite part is hanging out and doing the games with other people just like me,” said Henry Willie, a seventh grader at FHMS who was seated with three high school students. Willy was able to chat with sophomore Adam Hogan (who was also taking pictures for FHNToday), about joining the newspaper staff when he got to high school.

The partnership between FHSD and St. Louis Storytelling Festival began back in 2006 when Brewer noticed that many younger students believed they would only have hearing loss as children, because they had never met an adult with hearing loss. “Our students need role models who are like themselves, and this provided that wonderful opportunity for us!” said Brewer. “It is important for our students to be able to identify with others just like themselves. Days such as this help to build healthier social-emotional self-esteem and strengthens their self-identity.”

The Deaf Storyteller event has given the deaf and hard of hearing students at FHSD an opportunity to see someone just like them living their life to the fullest. As these students move through their academic career, they will face their own challenges. With older students and adults who serve as strong role models, they can be better prepared for the road ahead, no matter how bumpy it may be.

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