The halls at Sudie L. Williams Elementary School echo with the familiar sounds of teachers explaining lessons and students answering queries.
However, it is only because of the school’s unique Oral Deaf Education program that dozens of students on campus are able to hear those questions at all.
Williams has long served students with auditory impairments in kindergarten through fifth grade. It is the only school in Dallas ISD that utilizes additional teachers and special technology to improve students’ access to grade-specific curriculum and instruction.
Students with a range of issues, including physical deformities that affect their ability to hear, travel to Williams daily from throughout the district and as far away as Farmers Branch and Carrolton to attend the school.
“We service a special population, because we have the special tools to do so, but all kids are special,” said Principal Michael Jackson.
Beginning last year, a greater emphasis has been placed on including auditory-impaired students in more general education programs at the school, rather than routinely pulling them from classes to receive specialized instruction in reading, he said.
Each classroom at Williams is helmed by a pair of teachers — a general education and a special education instructor — who teach in tandem. They also don personal frequency modulation systems that use radio waves to deliver speech signals to students who wear hearing aids and cochlear implants.
The technology, which syncs with the students’ hearing devices, provides students better access to sound and allows them to use their listening and speaking skills rather than sign language when interacting with each other and their teachers.
As a result, most of the school’s 40 auditory-impaired students are able to participate in a typical classroom setting alongside their 200-plus hearing classmates.
“We really do try to urge an inclusive environment, so the kids are getting on-grade-level instruction just like their peers are,” Jackson said.
It can be difficult for some students who experienced a delay in being identified as having auditory issues early in their lives or academic careers to adjust.
“They have had to make it the best way that they could with the tools that they had, so they read lips, and they’ll come up with ways to make it,” he explained.
Now, he said, it’s up to the teachers at Williams to use “diverse instructional strategies in order to bring those kids into the fold of understanding.”
The Oral Deaf Education program is “driven by teachers who are super passionate” about giving the students “not only access to instructional material, but also to self-advocacy,” Jackson said.
For example, students are responsible for keeping track of and maintaining their own hearing devices.
“You have to make sure that you wear it every day, check your batteries and all that,” explained fifth-grader Aaron Caracheo, who transferred to Williams last year from another school.
Jackson said all of the students on campus take the Oral Deaf Education program seriously.
“If a child loses a hearing aid, everybody is scrambling to find it,” he explained. “Think about the level of consciousness the students have to have. They’re not just thinking about themselves. They know that a student won’t have as much access to [instruction] because they don’t have a hearing aid.”
With the help of technology, 10-year-old Carecheo said he can better hear the teacher than at his previous school, where “it was tricky. … I had to ask the teacher again and again if she could repeat” information.
Special education teacher Molly Browning said Williams’ auditory-impaired students “are being pushed more. We are not pulling them out [of class]. We’re not saying, `You can’t do this.’ We’re saying, `You can do this, we’re gonna help.’ ”
Jackson agrees. “We push these kids as hard as we push everybody else. There’s no differentiation in terms of what the expectations are. And they rise up to the challenge. It’s pretty awesome.”