By Stacy Damitio
Deaf culture finds itself well represented within the classrooms of Glendale Community College.
“[GCC] has the second largest population of deaf students in the district; we have for a couple of years now. We just serve them well,” Mary Jane Nichols, Supervisor of Interpreting Services for the Deaf, said.
GCC is one of three colleges in the Maricopa Community College District who offer an array of services to accommodate deaf students in the classroom. Mesa Community College and Phoenix Community College also offer accommodations for deaf students.
Only two percent of deaf individuals attend college after high school, of that percentage, just 28 percent graduate.
GCC is looking to change those numbers with a variety of services not easily found in hearing schools. These services are so earnestly sought out, students have moved to Ariz. in order to attend classes at GCC.
“We had a student come to us from Hawaii, because she read about us on Facebook,” Nichols said. Students have also traveled from Texas and California.
GCC’s program offers interpreters hired by Nichols who are certified by the state of Ariz. Nichols makes it point to screen all interpreters very closely. She describes it as being “picky” on who she will hire.
“There are excellent interpreters here,” Chris Clevenger a sophomore who has been deaf since the age of one said.
“Mary Jane makes sure everything is in order,” Feistner said.
GCC also has a video phone in the Media Services room in the library, and also one in Nichols office. Video phones will not be found on campuses where there is no supervisor of interpreters, other schools do not have that kind of support for deaf students.
“It’s like a public phone booth for the deaf,” Nichols said.
“The deaf program here helps a lot because they make sure there are note takers,” Ben Feistner GCC sophomore who has been deaf since birth said.
Nichols is fluent in American Sign Language, and uses her skills to help deaf students enroll in classes. They can use the video phone in the library to contact Nichols to set up an appointment.
“They still have to navigate financial aid and stuff like that on their own, but they can have an interpreter go with them,” Raymond Baesler, interpreter, and Adjunct Faculty for Communications and World Language said.
Deaf students who attend GCC come from high schools for deaf students. Coming to a hearing school is different experience for them. Fortunately, most of them have positive experiences.
“I’m comfortable here, there has been nothing negative with [any] of the students,” Feistner said.
Feistner attends GCC with his lifelong friend Clevenger. They take classes together, and will attend the University of Arizona to pursue teaching degrees.
They both want to teach deaf high school students. Feistner aspires to teach English, while Clevenger plans to teach History.
Clevenger and Feistner both attend an ASL-102 class taught by Baesler, they have fun with the hearing students they encounter while in class.
“We enjoy helping other students who ask for help,” said Clevenger.
Feistner and Clevenger take pleasure helping hearing students learn ASL, they also enjoy connecting with the hearing world.
Teachers on GCC’s campus are also making a difference in the educational experiences of deaf students.
“This school has many great teachers that are really great with deaf students,” Clevenger said. “The teachers here have made us all very comfortable.”
Teacher’s roles with a deaf student are slightly different than that of their role with hearing students.
Teachers must make sure they are paying attention to the interpreter in order to make sure the deaf student’s questions are being answered and they can take part during in-class discussions.
The main complaint from deaf students is they feel as if they are sometimes invisible, and are ignored by teachers who speak to the interpreter instead of speaking directly to them.
“Talk to me, look at me,” Feistner said.
GCC must be doing something right. In the past five years there have been five deaf students who have graduated with their associate degrees.
“There is nothing more rewarding than seeing them finish, especially when they go onto [a university],” Nichols said.