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Laurie-Ann Hitchener claiming academic success despite her disability

Sunday, July 12, 2009

LAURIE-ANN Hitchener, 12, epitomised the mantra of a popular sporting apparel company, “Impossible is nothing”, when she became the first student of Danny Williams School for the Deaf to achieve an award for her performance in the recent Grade Six Achievement Test. The award, a plaque, was sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-Community Empowerment and Transformation (COMET)/GoGSAT project. “She did very well and so we decided to award her. For her school, she performed the best. It wasn’t that she got in the top nineties, but she scored way above average. We thought that was really good,” Shalette East, vice-president of operations for GoGSAT told Career & Education. The USAID-COMET/GoGSAT project helps students prepare for GSAT through online exposure to more than 6,000 practice questions written by experienced teachers, as well as authors who have published textbooks. Hitchener also received a $50,000-grant from the NCB Foundation to attend the Lister Mair/Gilby Senior School for the Deaf this September. The sum will help to cover the cost of her fees, uniform, books and other school supplies. Hitchener has benefited from the new Bilingual-Bicultural (Bi-Bi) approach to teaching deaf students, through her learning experiences which started at the Jamaica Association for the Deaf Pre-school Centre. She continued on this path when she transitioned to Danny Williams Primary School for the Deaf.

Over the past year, the little girl was able to take full advantage of a programme specially designed to prepare deaf students for the GSAT examination, emanating from a partnership between the school and GoGSAT. At the school-leaving ceremony, held recently at Danny Williams School, a jubilant Laurie-Ann, who was the valedictorian, expressed her joy at having performed so well in the recent GSAT exams, and attributes her success to the help of her family, her teachers, and friends.

In her annual report, principal of Danny Williams, Maureen Simmonds, said she was delighted but not too surprised at Hitchener’s success, noting that she has consistently worked hard and achieved high scores throughout her school life-from pre-school through to the grade six level. Laurie-Ann’s accomplishment can be attributed to the Bi-Bi approach adopted by the Jamaica Association for the Deaf in 2000, which incorporates the use of Jamaican sign language, the natural language of the deaf, in the development of language and literacy.

In 2008, the NCB Foundation, which has sought to advance children’s educational outcomes through a variety of initiatives, donated $2.9 million towards the association’s Language and Literacy Development Programme. The contribution was aimed specifically at improving the sign language skills of parents and teachers of deaf children and upgrading the skill levels of school administrators to better manage their bilingual programmes.

“NCB Foundation is elated that a deaf student from within the Jamaica Association for the Deaf education system was able to defy the odds and set an example for others who are faced with similar challenges,” the foundation said in a release to Career & Education. The Jamaica Association for the Deaf, for its part, said it “recognises this achievement as evidence of the positive impact of its efforts and the investment of funding partners over the past nine years to implement a bilingual approach to deaf education”.

The association is a non-profit organisation established in 1938 and is committed to providing special education, hearing health care, social support services, and advocacy for the advancement of deaf and hard-of-hearing people. It operates mainly with volunteer support and with assistance from the Ministry of Education.

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