June 6, 2019 -- An elementary school in Maine is helping a kindergartner who is deaf feel more welcome by teaching its staff and students sign language.
Principal Kimberly Sampietro says in an interview with WebMD that 6-year-old Morey Belanger is the first deaf student at Dayton Consolidated School -- but that hasn’t stopped any of the other kids from buddying up to her. “They’re very inclusive and want to be able to communicate with her,” Sampietro says. “They’re little kids, so they’re obviously not fluent in sign language, but they certainly love Morey.”
That’s why Morey’s teachers started teaching her classmates sign language. “When they sing the alphabet, they also sign it. They’ll practice with the numbers. Most of the kids know how to sign their names,” says Sampietro. The school also has many sign language posters, so kids in other grades can practice their signing.
Morey is one of 34 million children around the world who have disabling hearing loss, according to the World Health Organization. More than 430 million adults have it, too -- and that number is expected to grow. The WHO estimates that more than 900 million people will have disabling hearing loss by 2050.
It’s not clear how many children in the U.S. have hearing loss, but data from the CDC suggests that about 1 to 3 in 1,000 kids have it. The CDC says genes are responsible for most kids’ hearing loss, but infections during pregnancy, environmental causes, and complications after birth are also causes.
To celebrate Morey and her classmates, the school lined up a Cinderella impersonator who knew sign language, too. Sampietro says the 6-year-old lit up as soon as she saw her. “Morey can be very shy, but she was totally into her. She even went up to her and started doing some of the signs.”
Sampietro says the kids’ experience with the princess couldn’t have gone better. “I wanted to really shine a light on what she teaches us about differences -- and that she likes princesses just like any other little girl in kindergarten.”