Signing Up for Higher Education

nancy-agbenu
el-vaquero-staff-writer/" class="creditline">NANCY AGBENU
El Vaquero Staff Writer

The class has started, but
silence fills the room and no
one speaks a word. The students’
eyes are attentively focused on
the teacher. They don’t hear the
noise from the hallway or the
shouts of their peers.

Calmly and without words
Elizabeth Barrett defines
“phrasal verb.”

She speaks with her hands and
her students listen; they listen
with their eyes. She asks them to
define “phrase” and “clause” and
no one says a word yet many can
give an answer.

The students answer with
their hands.

Skillfully crafting words,
phrases and sentences with their
fingers in the air; the students ask
questions, define grammar and
crack jokes.

In the end, one by one they
come forward and sign their
essays about “putting the thankfulness
back into Thanksgiving.”

“The students are fabulous,”
said Barrett, who has been working
with deaf students for 30
years and coordinates the interpreter
program at GCC.

“They are so dedicated. They
challenge themselves. We are
laughing a lot. And we are learning
together.”

Just as any other language,
American sign language has its
own culture, rules and customs.
“We are simply more visual as
we understand peoples’ actions
and emotions,” said 21-year-old
accounting major Ana Trujillo.
“We also use more of our body.”
Switching the light on and off to
get someone’s attention or touching
each other a lot are accepted
things in deaf culture, said
Barrett.

“I admire deaf students for
their ability, perseverance and
will to succeed and overcome
many obstacles in a hearing
world,” said GCC speech therapist
and lip-reading instructor
Stela Fejtek.

According to statistics of the
U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services (NCHS)
approximately 8.6 percent of the
total U.S. population is deaf or
hard-of-hearing.

Most of Barrett’s English students
have been born deaf or
hard of hearing.

In contrast to the deaf who
mainly communicate through
sign language, those who are
hard of hearing perceive some
sounds and find it more easy to
lip-read and speak.

“I am hard of hearing meaning
I can socialize with the hearing
people through my lip reading. I
also socialize with the deaf by
signing,” said Lorna Rodriguez,
Vice President of the Deaf
Culture Club. “I am of both of
these worlds.”

Hearing impairment at birth is
genetic and therefore due to
heredity, yet many children
affected have hearing parents.
“My parents don’t speak sign
language, only Spanish,” said
Trujillo.

“So, I read their lips as they
speak.” She has one brother who
is deaf and a sister who is hard of
hearing.

Ninety-five percent of deaf
peoples’ hearing parents are
unable to use sign language to
communicate with their children.
This causes tremendous disadvantages
when learning languages,
Barrett said.

According to her, there are
several deficiencies in educating
the deaf.

“Especially in public schools,
deaf students get pushed through
the grades even if they are not
ready,” said Barrett.

Sometimes the level of
English classes for deaf people
who are seniors in high school is
like that for second graders, said
Javier Torres, 23, new president
of GCC’s Deaf Culture Club
through interpreter Kelly, 21.
To share information about
developments in deaf politics,
the club attends discussion
rounds for deaf students at different
coffee shops in town, said
Torres.

“Here we talk about education
or our plans for the future keeping
our culture strong and
enlightening,” said Torres.

“When I got out of high
school, I was ignorant about college
and applied at some job,
doing data entry,” said signs education
major Torres.

“When I got laid off I finally
decided to see what college
looked like and realized that college
is really important for my
future.”

According to the National
Center for Health Statistics
about 47 percent of the nation’s
two and four-year colleges
enrolled one or more deaf or
hard of hearing students in the
’90s.

Public institutions were much
more open than private ones (79
percent versus 29 percent) and
only about two-thirds provided
sign language interpreters and
tutors.

“Disability is a social
construct and…cultural and
political decisions, rather than
biological characteristics,
restrict [deaf people’s] full and
complete participation in
society,” said John Van Cleve,
editor of “Genetics, Disabilities
and Deafness.”

“I’d like to write a book about
my life. On how we should not
accept the things the way they
are, but fight for our rights,” said
Torres. “I want to bring deaf
education to the same level as
hearing education,” he signed.
For spring break he has a plan
for a Deaf Culture Club trip to
Gallaudet University, the leading
deaf university in Washington
D.C.

Torres, like Trujillo, came to
GCC because he heard of the
good deaf program. GCC has
grown to 25 deaf and hard of
hearing students and 10
interpreters.

“Frankly, I believe GCC is
offering a very receptive
environment to deaf students.
The faculty I’ve worked
with…are very open to deaf
students and note takers,” said
Barrett.

The primary objective of
GCC’s Center for Students with
Disabilities (DSPS) is to
integrate disabled students into
general campus programs and
activities. “I’d like to see [my
students] in mainstreamed
English classes, feeling
confident about their skills and
of course I’d like to see them
reach all their individual goals,”
said Barrett.

Trujillo plans to work in
banking and wants to transfer to
UCLA or the National
Technology Institute for the
Deaf (NTID) another famous
deaf college, she signed.
“People think it’s easy for a
deaf person to learn speaking or
lip-reading, but it isn’t,” said
Barrett.

“Just sit in front of the TV and
turn the sound off and you’ll see
how hard it is. “It’s much easier
for hearing people to learn sign
language than for deaf people to
learn lip-reading.”

“My goal is to encourage the
deaf and hard of hearing to
socialize also with the hearing,”
Photo courtesy of the dance department
Reyes performing a dance from “School Daze,” at GCC’s theater.
Reyes’ role models are his father Gerardo Medina,
who owns an import-export car business in Tokyo,
Japan, and his mother Daisy Marie, who managed
their car business in Manila.

“My parents are really hardworking people,” he
said. “And they told us children that the best gift they
could provide to us is the best education they could
afford. They gave me the opportunity to be the best I
could be at the best places I go to. I am so grateful for
my parents.”

Reyes wants to go back to the Philippines after his
American college graduation and make a difference
for his people and his country. “No politics,” he said
of his career endeavors. “Not an office in New York
City. I just feel that I owe so much to my people and
my country…I just have that main dream of a topfloor
window office…in Makati [Philippine’s
business center], with glass windows and great views
around it, leather furnishing and a secretary to
respond to my calls.”

When Reyes first arrived in America as an international
student, he attended Woodbury University in
Burbank with his sister Margeaux, now a junior at
Woodbury. He was a writer-associate for the
Learning Center and Vocation for the Woodbury
Business Association, a public relations officer for the
International Students Club and a staff writer for the
campus newspaper, The Pulse. He also received the
President’s Award as a best first-year student of
Woodbury. “Perhaps, they [the university] just want
me to stay at Woodbury,” he said. “I feel honored.”
Theater brought Reyes to Glendale College in fall,
last year. He has his fondest memories auditioning
for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on his second day
on campus; he was the only Asian among the cast. “I
did not know anyone, but I auditioned for my favorite
character, Puck, a mischievous fairy,” he said.

“I got the role of Starveling and in the play within
a play I was also Moonshine,” He was nominated for
the Irene Ryan Award, an acting competition.
Reyes was no rookie to the stage; he performed in
“King Lear,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Spring
Awakening,” “The Noh Play” and “Damask Drum”
in high school.

“Theater will always be a part of my life,” Reyes
said. “[But] my goal is really to become a big
business executive in the Philippines…my choices of
transfer are USC, Loyolla Marymount or Cal State
Northridge.”

Last weekend, Reyes was a dance performer at the
campus theater in “School Daze” directed by Lynn
McMurrey, chair of the dance department.

“I’m only in one dance scene with Jappy, the
“School Daze,” said Kei Tsuruharatan, 19, dance
major, an international student from Japan. “But
Jappy is in a lot of dance scenes. He’s good.”
“Dance, like all art forms, is a means of communication,
and that’s I love about it,” said Reyes. “I love
the sweat, passion and intensity that radiate through
your skin as body becomes language and motion
become words.”

“Between this club and his grades, he’s doing a
great job,” said Santos.

“When I was growing up, my mom always said to
me ‘there will be opportunities, grab it and try your
best,'” Reyes said. “If you’re not going to give your
110 percent, why do it at all?”
said business office technology
major Rodriguez, 30. “The club
is fun,” said Trujillo. “I want to
show hearing people more about
our culture.”

During fall and spring GCC
regularily offers CSU and UC
transferable American Sign
Language (ASL) classes for
hearing students.

GCC also has a no-charge lipreading
class for hearing
impaired people who, according
to the National Center for Health
Statistics, present a high
percentage (28 percent) among
the elderly.

Twice a week speech and
hearing therapist Fejtek meets
with her students in a warm
classroom atmosphere at the
Adult Recreation Center and
makes lip reading enjoyable as
the students learn to understand
words they were not able to hear
before.

“We are almost like family. I
enjoy working with the students
because they have an
opportunity to apply lip-reading
while discussing current events
in a supportive environment,”
said Fejtek.

Rodriguez’ main inspiration
comes through her children, she
said.

“I have overcome a lot of
obstacles struggling to keep up
with the hearing all of my life,”
said Rodriguez’s.

“But my children and my
friends’ positive encouragement
keeps me going to the path of
success,” said Rodriguez.
“My greatest goal in life is to
earn my degree and get a great
job to support my family,” she
said.